Sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STI’s/STD’s) are infections which are commonly spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
Some can even be spread just through direct skin-to-skin contact!
No one really talks about it, but sexually transmitted infections are very common, especially among young people – or rather, anyone who is sexually active is at risk!
Common Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are some of the most common STI’s we encounter in the clinic.
Syphilis and HIV are less commonly seen, but of course, pose a risk of serious and even potentially life-threatening complications if left undiagnosed or untreated.
Here are just some of the signs and symptoms that may appear if you have a sexually transmitted infection:
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
- Abnormal penile discharge or Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pain passing urine
- Pelvic pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Testicular pain or swelling (epididymitis)
- Joint pain and swelling (reactive arthritis)
Did you know that up to 8% of sexually active females between the age of 16-40 will be carrying a chlamydia infection at any one time, and most will not have any symptoms at all!
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)
- Fever and flu-like symptoms before the outbreak
- Tingling, itching, or burning sensation where the blisters would appear
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Cold Sores
- Crops of painful blisters/ulcers – these can vary in appearance and severity, and can be transmitted to any site of the body depending on exposure (e.g. mouth, hands, buttocks, eyes!)
It is estimated that 1 in 5 people in the US have genital herpes!
There is no way to fully eradicate the herpes virus once it has been contracted – it usually causes recurrent outbreaks of blisters, and can be transmitted even without visible ulcers.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
- Certain types of HPV can cause genital warts – may appear as a small bump, or cluster of bumps, flat lesions, or ‘cauliflower-like’ protrusions with a small stem; sometimes these may be itchy or bleed if scratched
- Most types of HPV are actually asymptomatic (no signs or symptoms), but can instead increase the risk of oral and genital cancers – these can be detected on screening (especially recommended for women > 30 years old, to be done together with a pap smear)
The newest HPV vaccine is now available, and will protect against 9 strains of the virus!
The US FDA has also recently extended the recommended coverage to males and females from ages 9 to 45 years old.
Known as ‘The Great Pretender’ as symptoms can mimic other conditions, and can vary greatly between individuals and depending on the stage of infection
- Primary stage: usually presents with a solitary ulcer known as a chancre at site of initial infection, which is often painless and can be easily missed; may have associated swelling of lymph nodes as well
- Secondary stage: can happen weeks after primary chancre has appeared and even healed, and presents with skin rashes and/or lesions over mucous membranes – the STD rash can occur on any part of the body, but typically also appears with reddish-brown spots over the palms and soles of feet
- Tertiary stage: can occur many years (even decades) after infection was first acquired, and can affect multiple organ systems including the brain, nerves, heart, eyes, blood vessels, bones and joints
Learn More about Syphilis Symptoms (Painless Sore & Rashes)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When should I see a doctor?
If you have any worrying symptoms or exposure risk, see a doctor immediately. However, it is important to remember that many people may not have any noticeable symptoms for any of these infections, or that symptoms may take a long time to develop (weeks to months), thereby increasing the risk of complications and also the risk of transmission to others. As such, it is recommended to perform regular STI screening at least once or twice a year for anyone who is sexually active even if there are no obvious symptoms. STD Testing may be done more frequently if there has been any potentially risky exposure. Risky exposures would include sex with someone who has had multiple sex partners, sex with commercial sex workers (CSW), or unprotected sex with a person of unknown status.
What is the ‘window period’ for testing?
The window period refers to the time period following exposure where it may be still too early to detect infection with full accuracy. Different infections will have different window periods for detection. For bacterial infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, this period is fairly short, and most cases can be accurately detected 1-2 weeks post-exposure. However, for blood tests (e.g. HIV, syphilis) we usually recommend at least one-month post-exposure for accurate results. For concerns on specific infections, it is best to speak to the doctor who can advise you most clearly in person.
What will happen when I see the doctor?
Screening is a simple procedure and will include a thorough consultation with a doctor, physical examination if necessary, and either blood and/or urine or swab tests. You will need to find a doctor you can be comfortable speaking with about your risk and symptoms, as it will guide us to determine the most appropriate tests for you.
How soon can I get my results?
Most tests that we send to the lab will have a turnaround time of 3-5 working days. We also have Rapid STD Testing available in all our clinics for the “Big Four”: HIV and syphilis (results in 20 minutes), and chlamydia and gonorrhoea (next day results).
Earlier diagnosis means earlier and more effective treatment, reducing the risk of late-stage complications and also minimizing the risk of further transmission.
Learn More: What are the symptoms of HIV and AIDS?
Will my medical information be revealed to anyone else?
Your medical information is strictly private and confidential, and will not be shared with any other individual or organization. Only HIV infection is notifiable by law in Singapore – this means that if you did a lab-based HIV test and it came back positive for HIV, this result would have to be notified to the Ministry of Health.
However, our Robertson Walk Branch has been mandated to perform rapid HIV testing anonymously – this means that no matter the result, it will not be notified to the Ministry of Health. The Robertson Walk clinic is the only DTAP branch that can do HIV testing anonymously.
Can these infections be cured?
Many of these infections are treatable and can be fully cured/eradicated. Certain infections require longer courses of treatment and/or clearance testing to ensure they are cleared.
However, there are a few infections which can be treated with medications but may not be fully curable, such as herpes, hepatitis B, and HIV. Your doctor will advise you in more detail should your tests show any abnormal results. (see HIV Treatment)
If you or your partner are experiencing any possible signs or symptoms of infection, or have had any potential risk exposures, please see a doctor today.
Take Care. Be Safe!
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