(1) What are STIs?
STIs are sexually transmitted infections which can be passed on from one person to another during sexual contact. They are caused by bacteria, viruses and other microscopic organisms which are present in the blood, semen, body fluids or the pubic area of the infected person.
(2) What are the symptoms of an STI?
Sometimes there are no symptoms at all but obvious ones can include the following:
- Unusual discharge from the vagina or penis
- Pain when passing urine
- Unusual sores or blisters in the genital area
- Itching or irritation in the genital area
- Pain during intercourse
(3) Who can get infected?
Anyone who is sexually active can be at risk. Some infections may be in the body for months without any visible signs. Anyone can be infected from a single sexual contact with an infected person.
(4) Are all STIs treatable?
Yes. All STIs can be treated but there are still some that cannot be cured such as HIV/AIDS, herpes, and certain types of hepatitis.
(5) Do all STIs have symptoms?
No. Some may have no particular symptoms at all such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV and syphilis.The only way to be sure is to be tested.
(6) Does Chlamydia affect women only?
No, chlamydia can affect both men and women and if left untreated may cause infertility.
(7) Can STIs be passed on during oral sex?
Yes. Many STIs can be passed on during oral sex for example herpes, gonorrhoea, Hepatitis B and even HIV on rare occasions.
(8) Are condoms a totally effective form of protection from STIs?
No. If male condoms are used correctly they are about 98% effective, while female condoms are about 95%.
(9) Is a person who has one or more STIs, more prone to pick up HIV during sex?
Yes. HIV attacks the immune system. If a person already suffers from some sort of infection of the genital area, there will be a relatively high concentration of immune cells present trying to fight the infection. In this case the HIV virus will have a better chance of entering the body via semen/vaginal fluid and attacking the T-cells that are already present.
(10) What is the most common STI in Ireland?
Genital Warts and chlamydia are the most common STIs.
(11) What is a GUM Clinic?
Gum stands for genito-urinary medicine. A GUM Clinic is another name for an STI Clinic.
HIV/AIDS affects people throughout Ireland: in towns, cities and even rural areas. AIDS is caused by the HIV virus. To get HIV three things have to happen:
- HIV has to BE IN someone’s body.
- HIV has to GET OUT of his/her body.
- HIV has to GET INTO your blood stream in sufficient concentration.
What is HIV?
- HIV stands for Human Immuno-deficiency Virus. If you have the virus, you are said to be HIV positive.
- You can be HIV positive and not know it.
- Your sex or drug partner can be HIV positive and not know it.
- Once the virus is in your body you are infected for the rest of your life and you can infect others.
- HIV affects the body’s natural immune system. For some people this may result in an inability to fight infection. If you are HIV positive, you may look and feel healthy and it may be a number of years before you develop any infections.
When was HIV first discovered?
The earliest documented case was recorded in 1959. However, it wasn’t until 1980-81 when five young homosexuals were treated for PCP or Pneumonocystis carinii pneumonia at three different hospitals in Los Angeles that it came to the attention of the medical profession. Two of the patients died. This infection which was attacking CD4 cells was officially recognised as GRID or Gay Related Immuno Deficiency. It was also called the 4 H’s as it largely manifested itself in the Haitian, haemophiliac, heroin and homosexual population. In 1983 the virus was isolated and in 1984 the first diagnostic test became available.
When did the first drugs become available?
It wasn’t until 1987 that the first drugs were developed. They were not potent enouogh and the real impact came with a cocktail of drugs called HAART ( Highly Active Anti-retroviral Treatment) which were first tested on patients in 1995.
What is AIDS?
- AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
- Acquired means you get it from someone else
- Immune deficiency means your body cannot defend itself against certain illnesses.
- Syndrome means a collection of signs and symptoms which a doctor may recognise as a disease.
A person is diagnosed with AIDS when he/she has a T-cell (the white cells that help the body fight infection) count below 200 and has one or more AIDS indicator diseases or opportunistic infections. The most common AIDS related infection in Ireland is Pneumocystis Carinii pneumonia (PCP). Other conditions include a skin cancer called Kaposi’s Sarcoma, fungal infections (e.g. thrush), severe weight loss, T.B., cervical cancer and dementia. Infections and cancers develop because the T-cells are no longer working effectively.
What are opportunistic infections?
Opportunistic infections are infections caused by organisms that usually do not cause disease in a person with a healthy immune system but can affect people with a suppressed immune system. They need an opportunity to infect a person.
What are T-Cells?
T-Cells are a type of specialised blood-cell found in the immune system which helps protect the body from infection. HIV attacks these cells and uses them to make more copies of HIV. This weakens the immune system, making it unable to protect the body from infection. Measuring T-cells (also called T-helper cells or CD4 cells) is essential to monitor the state of the immune system. The count of a person not infected with HIV is usually between 500-1500. If a person is HIV positive this will drop over the years. If it drops below 250/200 this indicates that the immune system has been damaged.
What is Viral Load?
Viral load is a measure of the amount of virus in the blood. A high viral load is an indicator of high levels of HIV in body fluids. These results need to be viewed over several months in order to identify any significant trends. The level of viral loads and T-cell counts is a good indicator of when to start anti-HIV treatment.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV is found in:
- Men’s semen
- Women’s vaginal fluid
- Breast milk
- It is also found in tears, saliva urine and sweat but not in sufficient concentration to spread HIV.
It can be transmitted by:
- Unprotected vaginal sex (when the man’s penis enters the woman’s vagina)
- Unprotected anal sex (when the man’s penis enters the man’s or woman’s anus (back passage)
- Oral sex
- Injecting drug users sharing equipment (works)
- Through infected blood or blood products (mainly in developing countries)
- From a HIV positive mother to her baby in the womb during birth or breast feeding.
Can I get HIV from oral sex?
Oral sex (mouth or tongue touching genitals) is considered less risky than anal or vaginal sex but it is not entirely safe. The risk increases if there are cuts or sores on the vagina, penis, mouth or throat or if the woman is menstruating (having her period). To make oral sex safer, a condom or dental dam (a thin latex square) can be used.
What is safer sex?
Safer sex is any sexual activity where there is no transfer of semen, vaginal fluids or blood. This includes activities such as hugging, kissing, masturbation, massage. Sexual intercourse within a monogamous relationship is safe as long as neither partner has the virus, shares needles or has unsafe sex outside the relationship. If condoms are used to reduce the risk of semen, vaginal fluids or blood getting into another body, then sex is safer than not taking precautions.
Do condoms prevent infection?
The only way to be completely safe is not to have sexual intercourse and not to share needles. If you are sexually active, a condom properly used, can help prevent the spread of HIV and other STIs but it does not guarantee complete protection though it is thought to be highly effective against HIV. It is advisable to correctly use a condom every time you have sexual intercourse.
Information on how to put on a condom : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkmQm1WJg9s&feature=youtube_gdata_player
The main causes of condom failure are incorrect use, slippage, damage from jewellery/nails, damage due to heat or using a condom after the expiry date. It is also important to use a water based lubricant. Oil based lubricants (such as baby oil) may affect the latex and cause the condom to split.
Check condoms for best-by-date and ensure they have the British Safety Standard (kite symbol) or European Safety Standard.
What about sharing toothbrushes and razors?
There is a possible risk from sharing toothbrushes and razors if there is infected blood on them and you have an open cut in or around your mouth. Although the risk is considered low, from a general hygiene point of view it is recommended not to share them.
What about other sources?
Ordinary everyday contact with a person living with the virus is considered perfectly safe. You cannot get HIV from swimming pools, insect bites, sharing cutlery or cups, sharing the same washing or toilet facilities, etc.
There is no risk from donating blood as clean needles are always used. Since 1985 all donated blood in Ireland is screened for HIV and is not used if found to be contaminated with HIV. HIV is very fragile and cannot survive outside the body for very long. Any spillage of body fluid should be cleaned with domestic bleach – one part bleach to ten parts water.
How can I avoid getting the virus?
- Always practice safe or safer sex.
- Always use clean needles and ideally do not share ‘works’.
- Always treat spillage of blood as if it were infected. You cannot know by looking at blood whether it is infected or not. Wear latex/rubber gloves if possible when mopping up. Cover all cuts with a waterproof plaster.
To test your knowledge, click on QUIZ
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can be caused by alcohol, drugs, certain chemicals and viral infections.
What happens when the liver becomes inflamed?
It cannot control fluid balance in the body. It cannot make clotting factors so a person may bleed more easily. It cannot detoxify the blood of certain chemicals and it cannot excrete the compound called bilirubin which results in the body becoming jaundiced (that is the skin and eye membranes become very yellow).
How can a person become infected with hepatitis?
There are six hepatitis viruses identified at present and they are called A, B, C, D, E and G. A person can become infected with A and E if water and sewage facilities are inadequate, by not washing hands after going to the toilet or eating contaminated food. B, C, D and G are mainly transmitted by blood and blood products or by sexual activity.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?
Many people have none at all or just mild flu-like symptoms. Skin may become jaundiced and the infected person may feel tired and sick.
How is Hepatitis B spread?
Hepatitis B is spread in the body fluids of someone who has been infected. It can be contracted through sharing needles, sexual activity and exposure to blood and body fluids of the person who carries the infection. It can also be contracted through tattoos and body piercing as well as mother-to-baby transmission.
Is there any treatment available?
People who shed the virus and have normal liver function tests may not need any treatment. If however there is liver damage, a doctor may prescribe certain anti-viral drugs. Maintaining a healthy diet, rest and avoiding alcohol is advisable for anyone with Hepatitis B.
How can a person become infected with Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis is also a blood borne virus. It is spread through sharing needles, high risk sexual activity, transfusion of blood and blood products or exposure to blood that is infected. It can be passed from mother to baby and it can also be transmitted through dried blood because it can live outside the body for a period of time.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Symptoms vary from individual to individual. Many do not know they have been infected. 10 to 15% may experience loss of appetite, flu-like symptoms, fatigue and weight loss.
How can a person find out if they are infected with Hep B or Hep C?
This can be done through a blood test.
Is there a vaccine for hepatitis?
There is a vaccine for A and B but at the moment there is none for C, D, E or G.