Sexually Transmitted Infections

What is an STI?

An STI is an infection transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids such as semen, blood, vaginal secretions, or saliva. STIs can be transmitted without having sexual intercourse, through any bodily fluid exchange and some by skin on skin contact. It is important to get tested for STIs because many of them often don’t have immediate symptoms and can lead to long term problems like infertility and cancer. 1 in 4 college age adults has an STI, often times unknown to them, so getting tested regularly is important.

Testing options

STI testing and screening is available through Student Health Services at the University of Idaho.  There isn’t a single test that can check for all STIs so several may need to be performed.  Some may be detected through blood, urine or saliva samples. Others may only be detected from fluids collected from the vagina, penis, rectum, or open sores. It is important to discuss with your doctor what tests you may need. Also, some STIs will not show up until months after initially contracting them, which is another reason it is important to be tested regularly.

Types of STIs:

There are several types of STIs, some common ones are listed here as well as a description of their symptoms and effects.

  • Bacterial Vaginosis
    BV is a condition where the normal balance of vaginal bacteria is changed.  All women are susceptible to BV, and often don’t know because it doesn’t always present symptoms. Some possible symptoms include itching, burning, discharge, odor and pain. It is tested for by looking at a sample of vaginal fluid, checking for bacteria,, and can be easily treated by a doctor to avoid further complications.
  • Chlamydia
    The most common STI in the US, chlamydia is spread through bacteria that can damage a woman’s reproductive organs. Symptoms are usually mild or not present, but this STI can cause irreversible damage. Possible symptoms in women can be burning while urinating, abnormal discharge, lower back/abdomen pain, nausea, or irregular bleeding. Symptoms in men include burning while urinating, or discharge from the penis. There are many potential long term effects, such as infertility, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, or increased risk of ectopic pregnancy. Testing procedures include urine testing or samples taken from the cervix or penis. If detected, Chlamydia is easily treated and cured with antibiotics.
  • Genital Herpes
    Herpes is transmitted by viruses known as Herpes Simplex 1 and 2. It is spread when the virus is released by open sores.  Herpes Simplex 1 can cause genital herpes, but is more often the cause of cold sores. Simplex 2 is typically the virus behind genital herpes. The most common symptom is an initial outbreak of sores, which show up in the genital area and are blister like and painful. Other symptoms include flu-like symptoms, and secondary outbreaks. Outbreaks usually occur 4-5 times a year, but over time the frequency of outbreaks decreases. Herpes is diagnosed by testing samples from the sores or a blood test. There is no cure but there are antiviral medications to help prevent and shorten outbreaks.
  • Gonorrhea
    Gonorrhea is transmitted through bacteria and can grow anywhere warm and moist, like the cervix or throat.  Men often don’t have symptoms, but may experience burning sensations while urinating, white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis, or swollen testicles. Women also don’t frequently experience symptoms, and if they do they are often mistaken for a bladder infection. Symptoms include pain or burning during urination, increased vaginal discharge, or bleeding between periods. Long term effects may include Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, internal cysts, and increased risk of ectopic pregnancy. If left untreated it can spread to the blood and joints , which is life threatening. Gonorrhea can usually be detected in a urine sample, and is treated with medication.
  • Hepatitis B
    Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver spread through sexual activity and exchange of bodily fluids.  Symptoms are the same in men and women and include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, dark colored urine, light colored stools, yellowed skin or whites of eyes, extreme fatigue, and low fever.  About half of people infected don’t know they have it, and only 10% become carriers that can spread the virus without actually experiencing symptoms or effects. Long term complications include liver damage like Cirrhosis or the possible development of liver cancer. Hepatitis is diagnosed through blood testing but there is currently no specific method of treatment. High protein diets and plenty of sleep will help the liver to repair itself. During recovery, alcohol and other things metabolized in the liver must be avoided so it can heal. A preventative vaccine is available.
  • HIV/AIDS
    HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) Is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), passing from one person to another by contact through blood,  sexual contact, or mother to infant in birth or by breastfeeding.  Some signs and symptoms of HIV include fever, headaches, fatigue, and enlarged lymph nodes, but the symptoms often subside and the infection can be mistaken for the flu. The virus can progress into AIDS, signs and symptoms include rapid weight loss, cough, fever, fatigue, swollen glands, easy bruising, white spots on the tongue, mouth or throat, chronic yeast infection, pneumonia, numbness in hands and feet, loss of muscle control/paralysis, memory loss, depression, and other neurological complications. HIV and AIDS can be diagnosed through blood testing, treatments and drugs exist to help slow the progression of HIV, but there is not a cure.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
    HPV is a virus that causes genital warts passed through sexual contact. The virus can also cause warts in the mouth and throat. The virus can be passed even when the infected person has no signs or symptoms.  There are many different strains of HPV, but most people who contract it won’t develop signs and symptoms. Some strains will cause genital warts in males and females, and these can lead to cervical cancer in women. There is currently no standard set for HPV screening, but it is important for women to get annual gynecological exams and a pap smear every 2 years (which monitors cell changes), in order to avoid complications of HPV. There is no way to directly treat the virus, but there are treatments available to control the complications. Warts can be treated with medication or removed, abnormal cervical cells can treated before they become cancerous, and cervical cancer is treatable if caught early.
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
    PID occurs in women when bacteria from STIs like gonorrhea and chlamydia is left untreated and moves into the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries causing an infection. It is characterized by lower abdomen pain and can lead to tissue damage in these areas causing complications like increased risk for ectopic pregnancy, development of abscesses, or infertility.  PID may be hard to diagnose because symptoms are mild or unnoticed, and there is no specific test for this condition.  Some indicators that can help healthcare providers detect PID are past infections of chlamydia and gonorrhea, and a physical pelvic exam. PID, once diagnosed, can be cured with antibiotics, but these cannot treat damage that has already been done.
  • Syphilis
    Syphilis is one of the first known STIs and is a common bacterial infection that lacks distinguishable signs and symptoms. The bacteria are transmitted through direct contact with a syphilis sore, mainly through sexual contact in the genital area, but sores can also develop on the mouth. Symptoms of syphilis are sores, rashes, and spots on the hands and feet. These are often faint and go unnoticed, especially in the early stages. If the infection progresses without treatment, it can lead to complications such as organ and nerve damage, and can eventually lead to dementia, paralysis, blindness, even death. Syphilis can be diagnosed by testing samples from the sores, or through a blood test. Syphilis, if detected early, can be treated by a shot of penicillin or series of antibiotics.
  • Trichomoniasis
    Trichomoniasis or “Trich” is a parasite that causes infection that causes varied symptoms in men and women and is often hard to detect. The parasite gets passed from an infected person during sexual contact. Unlike some of the other STIs listed, it is unlikely to infect the mouth, throat or anus. Although symptoms are often not present, they may include itching and irritation inside the penis, burning after ejaculation, and discharge in men. For women, symptoms may include burning, redness or soreness of the genital area, uncomfortable urination, and unusual discharge.  Since symptoms are inconsistent, to accurately diagnose Trich, lab work must be done on fluid samples taken from the urethra in males and vagina in females. Trich can be treated with antibiotics, usually a single dose will clear it up.