STIs are a major health concern in South Africa posing a hazard to millions of people who engage in unprotected sex daily. The eleventh to the fifteen February is marked annually as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and condom week.
This week is aimed at providing information about STIs and highlight the importance of condom use to combat the spread of STIs and HIV/ AIDS.
Most South Africans remain untreated with STIs because of the fear of being stigmatised. An estimated 1 194 636 males and females were treated for a new STI episode in 2014. In addition, an estimated 338 838 males according to The Department of health.
What is an STI?
STI refers to Sexually transmitted infections that are usually transmitted by having unprotected sexual intercourse which is either vaginal, anal or oral sex in some cases, certain STIs can also be passed on through skin to skin contact and from a woman to her baby during pregnancy and childbirth.
Differences between STIs and STDs
Many people confuse STIs with STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) while the two are often used interchangeably, there are some distinct differences between them. An STI is a sexually transmitted infection, and STD is a sexually transmitted disease, moreover, not all STIs cause diseases and there are some STD that can be curable using prescribed medication and some are not curable such as HIV, these remain in the body for a lifetime. Those STDs that remain in the body for a lifetime can be suppressed using antiretroviral pills, thus increasing a lifespan of an individual affected.
Types of STIs:
There are different types of STIs, certain others are easily treated and cured with antibiotics while others can lead to serious long-term health consequences depending on the type of STI one may have contracted. The most common STIs are:
- chlamydia (a bacterial infection)
- gonorrhoea (a bacterial infection)
- syphilis (a bacterial infection)
- genital herpes (a viral infection)
- genital warts/human papillomavirus (HPV) (a viral infection)
- hepatitis B (a viral infection)
- HIV (a viral infection)
Symptoms of STI’s
A person can have an STI/STDs without having any noticeable symptoms, however, there are common symptoms and they include:
- sores or bumps on the genitals, mouth or rectal area
- pain when urinating
- unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
- unusual vaginal bleeding
- pain during sex
- sore, swollen lymph nodes, especially in the groin
- pain in the lower abdomen
- rash on the body, hands or feet.
The World Health Organisation postulates that More than 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day worldwide and an estimated 357 million new infections each year. Although some STIs are curable through antibiotics there are also some that can lead to serious long-term health consequences depending on the type of STI. As such, it is crucially important to protect yourself and your partner against STIs.
The most reliable way to avoid contracting an STI is abstinence, however, if you do have sex using a latex condom is one of the effective ways to prevent most STIs from your partner when used properly. If you suspect that you may have an STI, talk to your partner and visit your nearest clinic.
written by Maano Leroy Nethanani