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14th September 2017

Ending the misery of STIs

Sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) can cause pain, infertility and death. Can education and new technologies help turn the tide?

More than 1 million sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day worldwide.

From chlamydia, syphilis and herpes to gonorrhoea, hepatitis, HPV and HIV, there are a multitude of diseases spread through sexual contact. Most of these diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites that are passed from one person to another during sex.

Sexual Health Awareness Week (11-17 September) is a chance to kick-start conversations about sexual health and safer sex – and bust a few myths about STIs along the way.

Let’s start with some common misconceptions:

  • ‘Only young people are at risk of STIs’ – FALSE. The age group with the fastest-growing rate of chlamydia and genital warts is the over 50s. Thanks to a combination shifts in attitude and the arrival of the Viagra era, older people are more likely than ever before to be sexually active.
  • You know when you or your partner has an STI’ – FALSEMany infections can be present without symptoms, meaning people can spread them without knowing they are infected. Some conditions can make young people infertile without ever displaying signs of infection.
  • STIs are easily treated’ – (Mostly) FALSE. Some STIs are treatable and outcomes for serious conditions like HIV are now better than ever. But others are becoming increasingly difficult to treat. Gonorrhoea, for example, is one of the most serious drug-resistant infections in the world. This means it can be

Prevention is better than cure

Medical technologies can help to reduce the impact of STIs by making diagnosis easier and more accurate, and by preventing the spread of infection.

You might not think of condoms as medical devices but, in fact, they are among the most readily-available devices in Europe – accessible everywhere from pharmacies to nightclub toilets.

Condoms serve both as a contraceptive and a barrier against disease. They have been in use for hundreds of years – although early iterations were main of linen sheath, animal intestines or rubber.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that latex became available. Now non-latex options are also on the market and condoms are often coated with spermicide to further reduce the risk of unplanned conception.

Other contraceptive options – which do not prevent the spread of disease – include coils, diaphragms and a contraceptive patch the releases birth-control hormones.

While the above products may prevent pregnancy, the do not reduce the risk of infection with an STI. The good news is that there are now vaccines for some infectious diseases. For example, the meningitis vaccine may provide some protection against gonorrhoea and the HPV vaccine protects against viruses that cause cervical cancer and genital warts.

Cervical screening programmes are also essential to reducing the impact of cervical cancers. These regular check-ups test small samples of cells for early warning signs of cervical cancer. If problems are identified, the cells can often be removed before tumors develop – saving thousands of lives every year.

Get tested

Regular sexual health check-ups can help minimise the risk of serious illness and reduce the spread of infectious diseases in your community.

Around one in four young people (aged 16-24) are embarrassed about seeking an STI test but there’s no excuse for not getting tested: home-testing kits can be orderly discretely – but be careful where you get them. (Health professionals can help you to access and interpret appropriate tests.)

These tests often require simple urine samples. But innovation options are also becoming available. This portable device fits on your thumb, detects infections and wirelessly transmits the result to your smartphone.

And that’s not the only use of your smartphone in avoiding STIs. A UK website is now offering users the opportunity to view a map showing the rates of disease across the country. If that’s not specific enough, the latest dating app promises totally transparency about members’ STI status!

Find out more about Sexual Health Week 2017