HOWMUCH CAN THEY HARM YOU?
(STI) are transmitted from one person to another through sexual contact, and at times genital contact. The infection is usually transmitted via vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex. According to Dr Duru Shah, Director, Gynaecworld, Center for Assisted Reproduction & Women’s health and panel consultant at Breach Candy, Jaslok and Global Hospitals and Hinduja Healthcare, STI can also occur from mother to baby during childbirth or breastfeeding, or through blood transfusions and even with the use of unsterilised IV drug needles. Microorganisms that exist on the skin or mucus membranes of the male or female genital area can be transmitted, as can organisms in semen, vaginal secretions or blood during sexual intercourse. Terms like Venereal Disease and Sexually Transmitted Diseases are now considered passé, while STI suggests that a person can pass on the infection without having a disease—one does not have to be ill to infect others. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated over 10 years ago that over 1 million people each day became infected with a sexually transmitted infection, although most experts believe the figure is a lot higher today. A majority of these new infections occur in young adults aged up to 25 years, while approximately one third occur among individuals younger than 20 years of age. Globally, girls aged 14 to 19 are almost twice as susceptible to STIs than boys of the same age. Casual Sex, sometimes with a partner one hardly knows, has become a common feature in modern society, especially amongst those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Having a different sexual partner every few weeks or months is considered ‘cool’ and an achievement to be bragged about! But, how many women realise the kind of risks they are exposing themselves to when they live such a life? Many women find it difficult to ask their partners to use condoms, fearing that they may get offended at such a suggestion. There are others who proceed with unprotected sex, because they would not like to displease their partners as many men find condoms sexually unsatisfying. Unprotected sex has two major risks for women, the first being unwanted pregnancy and the other which is the riskier one, of getting infected with a sexually transmitted infection. Young girls feel that an unwanted pregnancy can be easily managed by popping the ‘I Pill’ immediately after sexual intercourse. Little do they realise that it has a 10-15% failure rate and that they could get pregnant even after they have taken the pill! On the other hand, there are women who would not even take that precaution and act only after they got pregnant. Termination of pregnancy is so easily available at such a low cost that subjecting themselves to a procedure, whether medical or surgical, does not really bother them. It is unfortunate that with every termination of pregnancy, there is always a possibility of an incomplete abortion, whereby some of the pregnancy tissue does not get expelled and gets retained within the uterus, leading to an infection which may be so severe, it could even lead to death! If less severe, it could damage the fallopian tubes, leading to infertility. Hence, it is necessary to have the procedure taken care of at centers which are hygienic, though prevention of pregnancy would definitely be the more advisable choice. The second risk which women face with unprotected sex is that of picking up a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from an infected sexual partner. There are various STIs which exist and they lead to various symptoms such as excessive foul smelling vaginal discharge, severe vaginal burning and itching, frequent and painful urination. These distressing symptoms force a victim to seek urgent medical help and treatment of the infection. It is imperative to mention some of the most common sexually transmitted infections: 1) Chlamydia, also known as chlamydial infection, is an STI caused by Chlamydia Trachomatis, a bacterium that infects humans exclusively. Chlamydia is the most common infectious cause of genital and eye diseases globally—it is also the leading bacterial sexually transmitted infection. According to a study, 6.8 per cent of girls aged 14 to 19 years have Chlamydia today. Chlamydia patients do not usually have signs or symptoms. If there are any, they are usually non-specific and may include: Cystitis A change in vaginal discharge Mild lower abdominal pain If the Chlamydia is left untreated, it may lead to the following signs and symptoms Pelvic pain Painful sexual intercourse, either intermittently or all the time Bleeding between menstrual periods Can lead to infertility or ectopic pregnancy if the fallopian tubes are affected Chlymadia silently invades the female reproductive system and causes havoc by damaging the fallopian tubes, leading to infertility or ectopic pregnancies. 2) Genital herpes: This STI is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and affects the skin, cervix, genitals, and some other parts of the body. Herpes is a long-term (chronic) condition. A significant number of infected individuals never show any symptoms and do not know about their herpes status. HSV is easily transmissible from human to human by direct contact. Most commonly, transmission occurs through vaginal, oral or anal sex. In most cases, the virus remains dormant after entering a human being. It can be transmitted to the baby during delivery if there are active liaisons in the vaginal area. Herpes infection can stay within the system for years and get passed on to the developing baby within the uterus, leading to problems in the healthy development of the baby’s brain and various other organs. The signs and symptoms associated with genital herpes may include: Blisters and ulceration on the cervix Vaginal discharge Pain on urinating Fever Generally feeling unwell (malaise) Cold sores around the mouth Red blisters—these can be painful, especially after they burst and leave ulcers on the external genital area, rectum, thighs and buttocks 3) HPV infection is the cause of 80 per cent cases of cervix cancer. Besides, such infections may create ugly growths around the genital area, which can become extremely embarrassing and repulsive. TREATMENTS Bacterial STIs can be easily treated with antibiotics, though viral infections can only be suppressed. It is extremely important that treatment should be taken by both the sexual partners so as to nip it in the bud before it reaches humungous proportions. When both the partners don’t take the treatment simultaneously, the infection can have a domino effect, with an infected partner passing it on to all his or her unsuspecting partners. The male partners usually do not have any symptoms, hence are reluctant to take the treatment. In such a situation, the infection can become chronic and resistant to any treatment. Sexually transmitted infections like HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HPV are silent infections, without any symptoms, but lead to life long disability and cancer. Sexually transmitted infections may cause painful symptoms such as gonorrhoea, which makes the person rush to the doctor immediately. So, the acute ones get treated quickly, whilst the silent ones remain inside for years and are detected only when the disease has caused harm. Yes, men don’t have to worry about getting pregnant, but they should realise that they can pass on their diseases picked up through unprotected casual sex, sometimes with commercial sex workers, to their future wives and through them, to their future children!