Most topics involving STDs are still taboo to this day, but the truth is anyone can be affected. Today we’ll be explaining how to prevent, recognize and treat STIs.
We believe that taboo topics revolving around STIs deserves much more attention — which is why today we’re dedicating ourselves to discussing various diseases, how to recognize, treat and prevent them. Because let’s face it, most of us have already dealt with one STD or another, and speaking openly about it shouldn’t be shameful!
Which STD do I have?
It itches, it scratches, it smells unpleasant in your intimate area – these are all signs of an STI. The most common STIs include chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, HPV and herpes. But how do I know which STI I have now?
Chlamydia are bacteria that cause inflammation. Most often in the mucous membranes of the urethra, cervix and rectum but due to oral sex, they can also occur in the throat. In fact, infection usually proceeds without symptoms or with only mild symptoms. If symptoms do occur, infections of the urethra or genital organs result in discharge from the urethra, vagina and/or itching, burning and pain during urination after one to three weeks. Many infections are therefore not even discovered. The big problem: If left untreated, the infection can migrate to the uterus, fallopian tubes and abdominal cavity and cause inflammation there. Signs of this are fever, heavy menstrual bleeding or bleeding between periods. In some cases, an untreated chlamydia infection even leads to infertility, abdominal cavity or tubal pregnancies.
Sidenote: Bacteria cannot survive for long outside the human mucous membrane. That is why they are not transmitted in swimming pools or through contaminated toilets.
Detect & treat chlamydia:
- Chlamydia can be detected by a swab or urine test at the doctor’s office
- This STD is easily treatable and curable with antibiotics. The sooner you start treatment, the easier and shorter it usually is.
- Sex partners should be examined and, if necessary, treated as well, so that you do not infect others or each other over again.
Syphilis is also a bacterial infection which progresses in several stages and has a variety of symptoms. At times, syphilis is not noticeable at all. Therefore, the disease often remains undetected. If left untreated, syphilis can have severe, sometimes life-threatening consequences. Signs of syphilis are initially small ulcers at the site where the pathogen has entered the body, for example in the vagina, anal area or mouth. In addition, there is swelling of the lymph nodes. These symptoms usually subside on their own. After about two months, symptoms such as fever, headaches and joint pain may occur. Skin rashes and coating on the tongue often develops. These symptoms also disappear on their own. After that, syphilis is usually no longer noticeable.
However, if in some cases the third phase of the disease occurs years later, ulcers may appear all over the body. The organs and nervous system can also be damaged – even to the point of deafness, blindness and mental deterioration. However, thanks to good treatment options, this almost never happens nowadays.
Detect & treat syphilis:
- If syphilis is suspected, a blood test is performed
- The disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics
- People with syphilis should abstain from sex until treatment is finished
- Sex partners should be informed so that they can also be tested for syphilis
Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. Bacteria – gonococci – cause this STD, typically affecting the mucous membranes of the urethra, cervix, rectum and throat, and in rare cases the conjunctiva of the eyes, causing inflammation. Characteristic signs of this STD are often foul-smelling discharge from the urethra or vagina and pain when urinating. If the bacteria rise, they can also cause abdominal pain. However, often there are no symptoms or symptoms are not noticed.
Detect & treat gonorrhea:
- Gonococci can be detected by a swab or a urine test at the doctor’s office
- In case of symptoms or concrete suspicion of gonorrhea, the costs can be settled through a health insurance company
- Gonorrhea can be treated successfully with antibiotics
HPV or genital warts are small wart-like growths in the genital and anal areas. In rare cases, they also appear in the mouth. The origin comes from the so-called human papilloma virus (HPV), of which there are many different types. Some cause non-painful genital warts, while others are significantly involved in the development of cervical and anal cancer – which takes between five and ten years to develop.
Detect & treat HPV:
- Genital warts are usually diagnosed by visual inspection or palpation.
- From the age of 20, those with statutory & usually also private insurance can have a so-called Pap test done once a year in their gynecologist’s office as part of early cancer detection. In addition, from the age of 35, a direct test for HPV can be performed every three years.
- There is no treatment directed against the viruses. Therefore, regular examinations for genital warts or precancerous lesions are useful.
- Genital warts can be treated in different ways, e.g., with creams and ointments, surgical removal or by cauterization. However, none of the methods can guarantee complete removal or permanently maintain a wart-free condition!
Many of us are familiar with lip herpes, but herpes can also occur in other places – especially in the genital and anal areas. So-called herpes simplex viruses (HSV) cause both lip herpes and genital herpes. The herpes viruses are transmitted through close contact, for example when kissing or having sex, through droplet infection (sneezing, coughing), through smear infection (e.g., touching the herpes, sharing glasses or cutlery) and during childbirth. Typical symptoms are small blisters or ulcers. Genital herpes usually affects the large and small vulval lips and the cervix. The anal area may also be affected. Possible symptoms include problems urinating and bloody discharge from the anus.
As long as blisters or ulcers are visible — herpes is contagious in any case. The risk of transmission is significantly lower when the blisters have already crusted over, and new ones aren’t apparent. However, even after the crust has disappeared, viruses can still be shed in small quantities.
Detect & treat herpes
- The Herpes viruses cannot be removed from the body. With a weakened immune system or due to certain triggers, it can become active again.
- Herpes can usually be diagnosed by doctors by looking at the typical signs of the disease. Sometimes, however, microscopic examinations or blood tests can also be useful.
- In the case of a confined infestation, treatment of the affected area with care or drying agents may be sufficient
- Virus-inhibiting creams can shorten the course of the disease and alleviate the symptoms.
- In the case of frequently recurring herpes, there is the possibility of permanent prophylaxis with low-dose herpes medication.
Where can I get tested for STDs?
You can get tested first and foremost by a doctor. In the case of STIs, it is best to contact your gynecologist. Meanwhile, STI tests are also offered for home use. However, home tests in particular, which are not sent to a laboratory, are often inaccurate and can lead to false results. By the way, health insurances usually cover the costs for a test if there are signs of an STI in you or if your (sex) partner has already been diagnosed with an STI. In many large German cities, there is also the possibility of anonymous counseling and, if necessary, testing for STIs – for example, in many health offices and at local AIDS help centers. You can find more information about this service here.
How do I protect myself from STDs?
Safe sex is always the best option. When using condoms and femidoms correctly, the risk of transmitting an STI is significantly reduced. Washing your hands is also an important measure to prevent STIs, because many viruses are also transmitted through hands, touching, rubbing, and that sort of thing.
You should also be tested regularly for STDs, especially if you have frequently changing sexual partners.
In the case of HPV, vaccination is also possible. This protects against most HPV types that cause cervical cancer or genital warts. However, it does not offer complete protection.
However, the most important thing about sexually transmitted diseases is to not be afraid to speak with a doctor or professional about your symptoms.
Edited and translated by April Verite.