What you should know about sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
More than 30 different bacteria, viruses and parasites are known to be transmitted through sexual contact. Eight of these pathogens are linked to the greatest incidence of sexually transmitted disease.
Of these 8 infections, 4 are currently curable: syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis.
The other 4 are viral infections, which are incurable: hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV or herpes), HIV, and human papillomavirus (HPV). Symptoms or disease due to the incurable viral infections can be reduced or modified through treatment.
STIs are spread predominantly by sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. Some STIs can also be spread through non-sexual means such as via blood or blood products. Many STIs—including syphilis, hepatitis B, HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, and HPV—can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth.
A person can have an STI without having obvious symptoms of disease. Common symptoms of STIs include vaginal discharge, urethral discharge or burning in men, genital ulcers, and abdominal pain.
STIs can have serious consequences beyond the immediate impact of the infection itself.
• STIs like herpes and syphilis can increase the risk of HIV acquisition three-fold or more.
• Mother-to-child transmission of STIs can result in stillbirth, neonatal death, low-birth-weight and prematurity, sepsis, pneumonia, neonatal conjunctivitis, and congenital deformities.
• Approximately 1 million pregnant women were estimated to have active syphilis in 2016, resulting in over 350 000 adverse birth outcomes of which 200 000 occurred as stillbirth or neonatal death (5).
• HPV infection causes 570 000 cases of cervical cancer and over 300 000 cervical cancer deaths each year (6).
STIs such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia are major causes of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility in women