How to avoid becoming an STI statistic

The latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) show that a young person is diagnosed with chlamydia or gonorrhoea every four minutes in England, with 144,000 cases of these sexually transmitted infections (STIs) found in people aged 15 – 24 during 2017.

If you’re one of them, you may not even realise you’ve been affected, since the majority of STIs – like chlamydia, for example – are symptomless. Gonorrhoea, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, which means there’s a very real risk it may become untreatable in the future.

STIs can also have a significant impact on your health, particularly if left untreated, since they can cause issues such as pelvic inflammatory disease, reactive arthritis and infertility, as well as symptoms such as swollen or painful testicles. And in women STIs can lead to a higher risk of pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage or stillbirth.

According to PHE’s figures, there were approximately 420,000 diagnoses of STIs in people of all ages in England during 2017, with chlamydia accounting for nearly half of them. Gonorrhoea figures are also on the increase, up 22 per cent in 2017 compared with 2016. Of these 420,000, 63 per cent of chlamydia diagnoses and 37 per cent of gonorrhoea cases were found in people aged 15 – 24.

“Rates of STIs remain high in young people, and we want to make sure people know that the best way to protect themselves from getting an STI, is to use a condom,” says TV doctor and GP, Dr Sara Kayat.

“Often STIs don’t have any symptoms, with four in 10 cases of chlamydia in women and around half of the cases in men symptomless, and they can have serious consequences.
You can easily contract an STI or pass one on without even knowing it, so – as I tell my patients – make sure you use a condom.”

Ways to stay safe

According to the sexual health charity fpa, sex without using contraception can put you at risk of pregnancy, but sex without using a condom can also put you at greater risk of getting a STI.

The charity’s Sexwise website offers information and advice on STIs, offering the following tips for protecting yourself against them:

  • Use male or female condoms every time you have sex.
  • If you have oral sex, cover the penis with a condom or the female genitals and male or female anus with a latex or polyurethane square (also known as a dam).
  • Avoid sharing sex toys, but if you do share them, wash or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.

For more information on using condoms correctly, visit the Sexwise pages on male and female condoms.

If you’re worried you may have contracted a STI – after having unprotected sex, for example – it’s important to be tested, since there’s a good chance you won’t have any symptoms. You can get STI tests at sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics, or at your GP’s surgery. Some Careway pharmacies also provide confidential testing for some STIs so ask to speak to your pharmacist in private if you’re at all concerned – if your local pharmacy doesn’t offer STI testing, your pharmacist can give you details of the nearest service that can.

Signs and symptoms

While many people don’t have any STI symptoms, some do – so here’s what you should look out for:

  • An unusual discharge
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Itches, rashes, lumps or blisters around the genitals or anus
  • Pain and/or bleeding during sex (or between periods for women)
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Painful testicles
  • Pain in the lower abdomen

However, bear in mind that these symptoms may not appear for weeks or months after you’ve been infected, and they may even go away – and in the meantime you can still have the infection and pass it on to other people.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.