So If You Can’t Actually “See” An STI, How Can You Tell If You Have One?

Just because you can't see or feel it, doesn't mean it's not there.


Yamkela Mdaka |

If there’s one thing we all know about sexually transmitted infections (STI) it’s that no one enjoys talking about them — but the truth is: if you are sexually active,  you could be at risk.
February 10-16 is STI/Condom week and one of the biggest misconceptions about STIs is that they show up as something you can see. In your life, how many times have you heard someone say “I always know if someone has an STI; I always look” — but the reality is that it doesn’t work like that. STIs are often asymptomatic or the symptoms are just simply too mild that they easily go unnoticed.

How bad is it?

A recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) says that every day there are more than one million cases of four common STIs contracted every single day! The infections included chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis and syphilis. According to the same report, one in every 25 people globally has at least one of these STIs.
“These STIs are preventable and treatable. However, the global threat of antibiotic resistance looms large, highlighted by the almost unthinkable: a world without a cure for gonorrhoea in the not too distant future,” Dr Matthew Chico, one of the authors of the WHO report, said in a statement.
“Alongside promoting sexual health education and effective condom use, efforts to improve STI surveillance, and develop new treatments and diagnostics, must be a top public health priority.”
In South Africa, there were an estimated 2.3 million new cases of gonorrhoea, 1.9 million new cases of chlamydia and just over 23 000 new cases of syphilis among women between the ages of 15 and 49 in 2017. That’s scary to think about, especially considering that these numbers only speak for the female population.

What are the consequences?

Some STIs are easily treated (if you know you have it), while others might need a more long-term medical intervention. Some are nothing more than an irritation, while others are life-threatening. Either way, there isn’t much you can do about it if you don’t know that you have it.

“Both the anatomy of the female genital tract — prone to ascending insertion — and reproductive events and related medical procedures — childbirth, stillbirth, abortion, uterine curettage [scraping] and intra-uterine device insertion – are additional risk factors for STD complications particularly to women,” says a study on female morbidity in sub-Saharan Africa published in the National Academies of Medicine journal.

“The main STD complications include pelvic inflammatory disease and its sequelae [conditions that are consequences of previous diseases/infections], and the most important of these are impaired fertility and adverse pregnancy outcomes, enhanced HIV transmission and cervical cancer.”
STIs and HIV infection in women are described as one of the most challenging problems facing the international health community at the moment.

Get tested

Here’s a question you should ask yourself: Besides an HIV test, when last did you test for an STI, if ever?
“Sexually transmitted infections are everywhere, they are more common than we think, but STIs are not given enough attention,” Dr Teodora Wi, a co-author of the WHO study, said in a statement.
The message is quite clear. If you feel you’re at risk or you’ve been at risk in the past but never followed it up, take the time to visit your GP and get tested. Having an STI is not the end of the world, but not knowing that you have it could cause problems you didn’t need to have.

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