April Is STI Awareness Month
The month of April is the first full month of spring, which means the weather is warming up, the days are getting longer, and the winter is thawing away (in most places). April is also an important time because it is Sexually Transmitted Infections Awareness Month—also referred to as STI Awareness Month or STD Awareness Month. The terms sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are used interchangeably. In this article, we’ll explain more about STIs, and why STI Awareness Month is so important.
What Are STIs?
STIs are infections and diseases that are contracted through sexual activity, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Additionally, STIs can be transmitted through close physical contact—like heavy petting—but it is not as common.
Sexually transmitted infections can involve painful, long-term symptoms, or little-to-no symptoms at all. Since symptoms are not always present, you could be infected and not even know it. Most STIs can be treated with medication, and many can even be completely cured.
How Prevalent Are STIs?
In the United States, 1 in 5 people—nearly 68 million individuals—have an STI. In 2018, there were 26 million new STIs diagnosed in that year alone, with almost half of those cases occurring in individuals between the ages of 15 and 24. Those new cases in just that one year ended up totaling nearly $16 billion in direct lifetime medical costs. The risk of contracting an STI significantly increases if you have unprotected sex and/or multiple partners.
Different Types of STIs and Their Associated Symptoms
- Chlamydia – Chlamydia is an STI that can be contracted by both women and men. Sometimes there are no symptoms, but when there are they can include abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis, a burning sensation when urinating, pain and swelling in the testicles, and rectal pain/bleeding/discharge.
- Herpes – Herpes is a common STI that can be present as both oral and genital herpes. Both forms can show no symptoms and be so mild that you don’t notice anything, but symptoms usually involve small bumps, sores, and blisters that can be mistaken for pimples or ingrown hairs.
- HPV/Genital Warts – HPV (human papillomavirus) can cause similar symptoms to herpes, and the two are commonly mistaken since the most typical symptom of HPV is genital warts. HPV is one of the most common sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and nearly all individuals who are sexually active will be infected at some point during their lives. It also can lead to more serious health issues like cervical cancer.
- Gonorrhea – Gonorrhea is another STI that can affect both females and males, often without any symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur, they include painful urination, pus-like discharge from the penis, pain/swelling in the testicles, increased vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding between periods, and pelvic or abdominal pain. Symptoms can also be present in other parts of the body, like the eyes, throat, joints, and rectum.
- Hepatitis – Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, but isn’t always spread through sexual activity. There are three main types of hepatitis—hepatitis A, B, and C. Hepatitis B is most commonly transmitted through body fluids during sexual activity. Hepatitis is very dangerous as it can lead to liver cancer.
- HIV – HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that affects the body’s immune system. When it goes untreated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Currently, there is no cure for HIV, so once you contract it, you have it for life. But there are treatments that can help control it. HIV generally involves flu-like symptoms shortly after infection, like chills, fever, night sweats, rash, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, mouth ulcers, and swollen lymph nodes.
- Syphilis – Syphilis is a bacterial infection most commonly spread through contact during sexual activity. It develops in stages, and the symptoms can vary in each stage. Generally, syphilis starts with a painless sore on the mouth, genitals, or rectum. Early syphilis can often be cured with a shot of penicillin, but—if left untreated—it can remain in the body for decades, become active again, and affect crucial parts of the body, like the heart, brain, and other organs.
- Trichomoniasis – Trichomoniasis—also known as “trich”—an infection of a protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. Most individuals can’t tell they are infected, but symptoms can include burning, itching, soreness, and redness of the genitals, itching or irritation inside the penis, discomfort or burning during urination and/or ejaculation, discharge from the penis, or a change in vaginal discharge.
Why Is STI Awareness Month Important?
STI Awareness Month is incredibly important because it raises awareness about the risks of sexually transmitted infections, and also educates individuals on how they can prevent them. Here are some of the best ways to stay safe from STIs:
- Learn How To Practice Safe Sex – Practicing safe sex—also known as “safer sex”—is one of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of contracting an STI. Safe sex involves using contraception—like male or female condoms—and reducing your number of partners. Learning how to practice safe sex, and then putting it into practice, can greatly reduce your chances of contracting an STI.
- Get Tested – Another way to keep you and your partners healthy is to get tested for STIs regularly. As mentioned earlier, there are some STIs that show no symptoms, so you won’t even know that you’ve contracted one if you don’t get tested. There are also online tools to help you know your risk of STI infection. Getting tested is easy, and many clinics offer it at little or no cost.
- Get Vaccinated – The best way to prevent STI contraction is to get vaccinated. Unfortunately, there are not vaccines for all STIs, but there are for some of the most widespread infections, like HPV and Hepatitis (A and B). These vaccines are a crucial part of protecting yourself against contracting these common STIs, and are as easy as getting a flu shot. There are also other medications—like PrEP—that help to decrease the risk of contracting STIs like HIV.
STI Awareness Month is a great time to educate yourself further on the risks of sexually transmitted infections. It’s also a perfect time to schedule an STI test to get checked. At MyAlly Health, we offer STI screening/testing on a sliding fee scale according to income and family size, so talk to us today about getting tested for sexually transmitted infections. We also offer HIV and Hepatitis C testing for free!
You can also get annual examinations like Pap Smears to test for HPV and Gardasil vaccinations to protect you from HPV infections. We even offer a $25 gift card for completing a cervical cancer screening, a pelvic examination, or for receiving the Gardasil vaccine!
MyAlly Health offers confidential reproductive health services to women and men in the Grand Forks, North Dakota area, regardless of income or age. This includes preventive care, like getting tested for STIs, breast examinations, and pelvic examinations; determining the best birth control for you; and even getting vaccinated against the flu. The clinical services we provide are all performed by Nurse Practitioners and Resident Physicians.
In order to empower and engage individuals in their well-being and reproductive health, MyAlly Health offers education, counseling, advocacy, and healthcare services. Find out more about what we do, help make a difference by donating to our cause, or schedule an appointment with us today!
MyAlly Health | Your Ally In Healthcare