STIs and HIV

What is a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)?

  • A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is an infection which is passed from one person to another through sexual contact – vaginal, oral or anal sex.
  • Some STIs are spread by coming in contact with infected body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal or anal fluids during sex
  • Some STIs are spread by touching an infected area of skin.
  • Some STIs can be spread to others by sharing needles/syringes/pipe when taking drugs, tattooing or body piercing or by sharing sex toys.
  • Some STIs can be passed from an infected woman to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding
  • A person can have more than one STI at the same time. 

What's HIV / AIDS?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) weakens your immune system, your body's built-in defence against disease and illness.  You can be infected with it and not know it. You may not look or feel sick for years, but you can still pass the virus on to other people.  Without HIV treatment, your immune system can become too weak to fight off serious illness.  HIV can also damage other parts of your body.  Eventually, you can become sick with life-threatening infections.  This is the most serious stage of HIV infection, called AIDS. 

There is no cure for HIV, but with proper care and treatment, most people can avoid getting AIDS and can stay healthy for a long time. 

It important for a person living with HIV, to take care of their basic health needs (such as good food, rest and exercise).  This will help them stay healthy for a long time.    

Powerful antiviral medication can help to prolong life, improve the quality of life, and reduce the risk of infecting others.  It most cases these drugs be taken for the rest of your life.  Some HIV medications have serious side-effects and other health problems.  Some treatments fail because new strains of the virus are resistant to them.  The infection can then progress to AIDS.


More about HIV / AIDS...

Can STIs be cured?

There are many kinds of sexually transmitted infections. STIs are caused by

bacteria, parasites or viruses.  

Some STIs can be cured with antibiotics or special lotions.

Examples of curable STIs are:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • LGV (lymphogranuloma venereum)
  • Pubic Lice
  • Syphilis
  • Trichomoniasis (trich)                  

Most viral infections are not curable. However, there are medications which can slow the progress of some viral STIs.  These drugs can  help ease the  symptoms, pain or discomfort caused by an STI or reduce the number or recurrence of sores or warts. 

Examples of viral STIs are:                

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) 
  • HIV
  • Herpes
  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis A  

How do I know if I have an STI?

It is important to know that you can be infected with an STI and have NO SYMPTOMS

Some possible symptoms or signs of an STI are:

  • Discharge from your penis
  • Vaginal discharge that is unusual in amount, color and odor
  • Burning or bleeding with urination (peeing)
  • Vaginal spotting between periods or after sex
  • Rash, lumps, sores or blisters in your genital or anal area

         (around your vagina, penis or anus)

  • Irritation (redness) and itching around your genitals (penis or vagina) or anus
  • Swelling around your vagina, penis or testicles
  • Pelvic or testicular  pain
  • Oral symptoms

You may have only one symptom at a time or several together, or none at all. 

Having symptoms doesn't necessarily mean that you have an STI: other infections (yeast infection or urinary tract infection) have similiar symptoms.   See a doctor or nurse for a medical exam.  If you are sexually active ask to be tested for STIs.

What can I do to prevent getting an STI?

Choose abstinence

The only sure way to prevent getting most STIs is: Do not have vaginal, oral or anal sex that involves contact with bodily fluids (blood, semen, vaginal or anal secretions). Herpes and HPV can be spread by skin-to-skin contact.  Sharing affection by hugging, kissing, touching and massage are safer ways to be intimate with your partner.

Limit the number of sexual partners

Limiting the number of sexual partners you have will decrease your risk of getting an STI.  When you have a new sexual partner both you and your partner should be tested for STIs and agree to have sex ONLY with each other. 

Use condoms

If you have vaginal or anal intercourse, use a lubricated latex male condom or a female/internal condom every time to protect against STIs. 

If you have oral sex, using condoms or an oral dam (square of latex) decreases the risk of getting an STI for both partners, regardless of who is giving or receiving. A non-lubricated condom on the penis or an oral dam against the anus or the vulva (woman’s genitals) prevents contact with body fluids. If you do not have an oral dam, make one from a condom.  Cut the condom from the rim to the centre of the reservoir tip, and unroll it. Spread it open with both hands and place it over the area of contact.

Use new or clean needles and syringes

If you get a tattoo or piercing, be sure that you go to a licensed shop. If you are using needles to inject drugs use a clean needle and syringe every time you use.  As a last resort, your own needles can be cleaned before each time you use them, but it is still best not to share with other people.  Cleaning means flushing the syringe twice with clean water, twice with bleach, and then twice with new water.  Each flushing should last 30 seconds.  This will kill HIV, but it will not protect you from hepatitis C.

Use clean sex toys

Do not share sex toys, and if you do, cover each one with a new condom before each use.  It is also important to clean your toys between vaginal and anal use.  Be sure to clean your toy before the first time you use it, and immediately after each use.  Use either a specialized sex toy cleaner or a gentle liquid soap.  

Limit drug and alcohol use

Using alcohol or drugs can make it difficult to use a condom or an oral dam correctly. It may be more difficult for a male to get or keep an erection when he is drunk or high, so you may be less likely to use protection.  You may also end up having sex with someone you wouldn’t normally have chosen to be with. 

Talk to your partner(s)

Prevention is important. Talk to your partner about using condoms. Keep some condoms with you and where you usually have sex. We all have to take responsibility to protect ourselves and our partners from becoming infected with an STI.

Get tested and have regular check-ups

If you are having sex, even if you have no symptoms of an STI, go for an STI test at least once a year.  You will need to ask to be tested for an STI since this is not a routine part of a yearly physical exam.  It's a good idea to be tested more often if you have multiple partners, have unprotected sex or have symptoms.  When you are in a new relationship, both you and your partner can go for a an STI test before you decide to be sexual.

How can I be tested for an STI?

There are different types of tests for STIs.

Testing may include:

  • a visual inspection of the genital or anal area
  • a blood sample
  • a urine sample
  • a swab sample taken from the penis, vagina or sores

If you are diagnosed and treated for an STI, be sure to follow your doctor's or nurse's treatment and follow-up recommendations. Your doctor or nurse will ask you about your previous sexual contacts. You can easily be re-infected if your partner is not treated.

Remember: all information is confidential and private.  You do not need a partner’s or parent’s permission to get free, confidential STI testing.

Where can I get more information?

  • From your health care provider, community health clinic, or public health nurse.
  • From the Facts of Life On-Line: e-mail your questions to thefactsoflife@serc.mb.ca.
  • From the Sexual Health Info Line: 945-2437 in Winnipeg or

         1-800-782-2437 in the rest of Manitoba

Glossary:

anal sex  - a man’s penis is put into the anus of another person

oral sex – the mouth is touching another person’s penis (fellatio), vagina (cunnilingus) or anus (anilingus, rimming)

vaginal sex – a man’s penis is put into a woman’s vagina

visual inspection – look at