Sexually Transmitted Infections


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Commonly Asked Questions

Note: For More Information on a variety of Sexually Transmitted Infections please consult the reference list following the Commonly Asked Questions.

What is an sexually transmitted infection?
STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are a group of infections that spread from one person to another through sexual contact. This includes sexual contact that involves your mouth and genitals including your anus.

Can I get a Sexually Transmitted Infection from oral sex? Yes, you can get some sexually transmitted infections from oral sex. Some sexually transmitted infections are passed from one person to another with skin to skin contact (i.e. genital herpes) and others need an exchange of infected bodily fluids (HIV). During oral sex, you may choose to use a male condom or dental dam to decrease the risk of transmission of STIs. You could also make sure that you and your partners get tested regularly.

Where do I go to get tested and treated for a STI?
There are a few options of places to go to be tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections. Firstly, if you are comfortable with your family physician, she/he will be able to complete the tests and prescribe the proper treatment if needed. Also, there are walk-in clinics that are able to test for and treat sexually transmitted infections. Clinics that specialize in sexual health may be another alternative for testing and treatment (i.e. Sexual Health Centre). Lastly, there are community health and resource centres that usually provide testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections

How are STI's treated? The type of sexually transmitted infection will determine the treatment. There are some sexually transmitted infections which are curable and are treated by antibiotics (orally or cream).

There are some sexually transmitted infections that have no cure such as HIV, Hepatitis B, genital herpes, and Human Papillomavirus (genital warts). There are medications that are available to alleviate the symptoms of these infections.

Some sexually transmitted infections are curable, including chlamydia and gonorrhea. It is important to seek medical attention for any suspected sexually transmitted infection. Do not self-diagnosis or self-treat, if you have any concerns ask your questions to someone you trust, get tested and communicate with your partner or partners.

Remember!
It's important to know what our bodies are like when they're healthy and to see a doctor if we ever experience any of these kinds of symptoms. BUT most people who have an STI don't have any symptoms so they aren't even aware that they have an infection. That's why it's important to get tested regularly for STIs if you're sexually active (even if you don't have symptoms) and get treated if you do have an infection. Practising safer sex is important to reduce your chances of getting an infection in the first place. Having an STI is much more common than we'd like to admit and many of those STIs are treatable if they're detected early. Treatment is important to make sure that the infections don't lead to further serious health problems and aren't transmitted to a partner. Some infections can't be cured, but their symptoms can be treated so that people can lead healthy sexual lives.


Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in Canada. It is a viral infection that can lead to many different problems including genital warts or cancer. There are different types of HPV that can affect different parts of the body, and yes, you can have more than one type of HPV at the same time. Some experts believe that up to 70% of sexually active people are infected with some form of HPV.

How Can I Get it? How can I Avoid it?
The highest risk behaviour for contracting HPV is by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. You can also get it through direct skin to skin contact with genital warts, but be careful - HPV can be spread even when no warts are present. Also, in rare cases, a pregnant woman can pass HPV on to her baby during delivery.

To avoid contracting HPV, use a condom when having vaginal, anal or oral sex. Also, a condom used on sex toys can help prevent the spread of HPV.

What does HPV look like? How do I know if I have it?
Many people who have HPV do not even know they have it. However, you may find warts on, in or around your genital area. These warts may be very small and look like cauliflower, or they may be flat and hard to see. You may notice a single wart or a cluster of warts, and they may be itchy or have discharge/bleeding if irritated.


I think I have HPV, what do I do?
If you suspect you have HPV you should see a doctor right away. A doctor or nurse will examine you and be able to determine whether or not you have HPV. There is no cure for HPV, but a doctor can treat the symptoms, such as genital warts. These treatments include medication, freezing or burning the warts, or surgically removing the warts. Sometimes, the warts go away on their own.

In Ottawa, you can get tested at the Sexual Health Centre (179 Clarence Street), at your doctors office, or at a walk-in clinic.

HPV Vaccine
There is a vaccine available in Canada for females between the ages of 9 and 26. The vaccine protects against four different strains of the HPV virus that account for 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. You must receive three different vaccinations, which are administered at different intervals.

The HPV Vaccine has recently (February 2010) been approved for males between the ages of 9-26, however is less widely available at this point. For more information about the vaccine for males, please talk to your doctor.

For the ladies…
HPV can cause changes to your cervix, which can lead to cervical cancer. A PAP test is a way to monitor the cells of your cervix to ensure that no changes are occurring. If you are sexually active, it is important to have a PAP test once a year. You doctor will contact you if any changes have occurred in your cervix.

Resources

Public Health Agency of Canada

Sexuality and You



Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a viral infection that causes painful sores on and around the genital area. There are two types of herpes viruses: herpes simplex I and herpes simplex II. The first type is typically associated with cold sores around the mouth, however it can be passed to another person’s genitals through oral sex. Herpes simplex II is the most common cause of genital herpes, but can be transmitted to the mouth also through oral sex.

How can I get it? How do I avoid it?
You can get genital herpes by having skin to skin contact with the open sores. It is possible to contract herpes from a partner when no sores are present, but this is less common.  Having unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex are high risk activities associated with genital herpes.
If you are pregnant, you can pass herpes on to your baby during delivery.
The best way to prevent contracting genital herpes is to use a condom during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Use a condom on sex toys to prevent the spread of the virus. Also, if you or your partner have visible sores, it is important to abstain from direct skin to skin contact until the sores heal.

What does genital herpes look like? How do I know if I have it?

Many people have the genital herpes virus and do not know it. However, there are some common symptoms. If you have genital herpes you may experience itchy or tingling in the genital area within a week of having sex with an infected person. You may notice a cluster of tiny blisters which will burst and leave painful sores. You may also experience a fever or headache during your first outbreak.

I think I have genital herpes, what do I do?
If you think you have genital herpes, see a doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will take a swab of the area to determine if you have genital herpes. Medication is available to help with pain and to control future outbreaks.
You should keep the infected area clean and dry. Make sure you wash your towel before re-using or use a hairdryer instead of a towel around the sores. Wearing loose fitting clothing made of natural materials may help with your comfort level during outbreaks.

You can be tested at the Sexual Health Centre (179 Clarence Street), by your doctor or at a walk-in clinic.

Resources
Public Health Agency of Canada

College of Family Physicians of Canada

Sexuality and You


Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a virus that can cause a serious infection of your liver. Some people are able to fight the virus off on their own, while others can carry the virus for the rest of their lives and never know. It can cause serious problems later in life, including permanent liver disease and cancer of the liver. Good news? Hepatitis B can be prevented by a vaccine.

How Can I Get Hepatitis B? How can I avoid Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is transmitted by bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid and saliva.  You can get the virus by having unprotected sex with someone already infected. It can also be passed on by sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, razors, or needles and also by unhygienic tattooing or piercing equipment. There is also a small risk associated with deep kissing.
If you are pregnant, you can also pass hepatitis B onto your baby.

To avoid contracting hepatitis B, be sure to use a condom when having oral, anal or vaginal sex or when using a sex toy. Also, do not share needles and make sure you check out any tattoo or piercing parlour prior to use to ensure they use new needles and throw out old ones.

There is a vaccine to protect yourself against Hepatitis B which can be administered by your doctor. It takes three needles given over several months before you are protected.

How do I know if I have Hepatitis B?
Symptoms of Hepatitis B usually occur within a 2 to 4 months of contracting the virus. You may notice that you have a poor appetite or nausea and vomiting. You may have headaches or feel very tired and have a general feeling of being unwell. You may also notice that your skin or eyes appear slightly yellow (jaundice) or that your urine or stool look a strange colour.

What do I do if I think I have Hepatitis B?
If you think you have Hepatitis B you should see your doctor who will give you a blood test in order to find out if you are positive. If you are positive, there are two treatment options, both of which are medications. Your doctor will discuss with you your best option.

You can be tested for Hepatitis B at the Sexual Health Centre (179 Clarence Street), at your doctor’s office, or at a walk-in clinic.

Resources
Public Health Agency of Canada

Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care


Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection. It the most common STI’s in Canada and is very common among youth and young adults. When left untreated, Chlamydia can lead to painful health problems and sterility. In women, Chlamydia can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (an infection in the reproductive organs) and infertility. In men, Chlamydia can lead to an inflammation of the testicles, prostate gland and scrotum. In rare cases it can also lead to infertility.

How can I get Chlamydia? How can I avoid it?
Chlamydia is transmitted by having oral, anal or vaginal intercourse with a person already infected with the bacteria. Also, pregnant women can pass Chlamydia on to her baby during delivery, which can result in the baby having severe eye, ear or throat infections.

Using condoms or dental dams can reduce your chance of getting Chlamydia but there is no 100% effective way to prevent the infection other than abstaining from oral, anal or vaginal intercourse.

How do I know if I have Chlamydia?
70% of women and 50% of men have no symptoms!

Women may experience some of the following symptoms:
-    new or unusual discharge from the vagina
-    burning feeling when you pee
-    pain in lower abdomen, sometimes with fevers or chills
-    pain during sex
-    vaginal bleeding between periods (spotting) or after intercourse

Men may experience some of the following symptoms:
-    watery or milky discharge from the penis
-    burning feeling when you pee
-    itchy feeling inside the penis
-    pain or swelling in the testicles

* Symptoms of an anal infection from Chlamydia include rectal pain, bleeding and swelling, while those infected through oral sex often do not have symptoms.*

I think I have Chlamydia! What do I do?
If you think you have Chlamydia you should see a doctor as soon as possible. The only reliable way to know for sure is to be tested. Women may have a swab taken from their vagina or a urine test done. Men typically are tested through a urine test, but sometimes swabs are taken as well.

If you do have Chlamydia, your doctor will contact you and start you on a dose of antibiotics, which are very effective in treating the bacteria. You will have to tell any sexual partners that you have had in the past three months that you have Chlamydia so they can be tested as well. If you care uncomfortable doing this, a public health nurse may do it for you.

You can be tested for Chlamydia at the Sexual Health Centre (179 Clarence Street), at your doctor’s office, or at a walk-in clinic.

Resources
Health Canada

Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care

Public Health Agency of Canada



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