Previously referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can affect anyone. In most cases, the infection can be cured or at least managed. If left untreated, some STIs can, however, lead to significant problems, such as infertility, while others, like HIV (AIDS), can be fatal. That is why prevention is so important.
What is a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
STIs are caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites that spread during sexual activity.
The most common forms of STIs are chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes and the human papillomavirus (HPV). Hepatitis B and C, pubic lice (crabs), syphilis, trichomoniasis and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are other examples of this type of infection.
STIs are passed on through sexual practices, such as:
- vaginal or anal intercourse;
- oral-genital contact (fellatio, cunnilingus);
- oral-anal contact (anilingus);
- skin-to-skin genital contact without penetration.
Certain STIs can also be spread through non-sexual contact, for example:
the sharing of needles;
the use of unsterilized tattooing equipment;
the use of unsterilized piercing equipment.
To prevent STIs, always…
- Always protect yourself by using a condom during vaginal or anal penetration, fellatio or skin-to-skin genital contact without penetration.
- If engaging in cunnilingus or anilingus, it is recommended you use a dental dam or latex square made from a condom.
You should get tested for STIs:
- at least once a year if you have more than one sexual partner per year (even if you always use a condom);
- before setting aside the condoms to make sure you and your partner do not have any STIs;
- if you show symptoms of an STI;
- if your partner has been diagnosed with an STI;
- if you have had unprotected sex with a new partner.
- There is a vaccine against hepatitis B. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to learn how to get it and whether or not you will need to pay for it (it is free for certain at-risk groups). It is offered free of charge at school to 4th grade elementary students.
- The Gardasil® vaccine provides immunity against HPV strains 6, 11, 16 and 18. The first two strains account for 90 percent of cases of genital warts and the last two are responsible for 70 percent of cases of cervical cancer. It is offered by prescription to men and women ages 9 to 26.
- The Cervarix® vaccine immunizes against HPV strains 16 and 18. It is made available by prescription to girls and women between the ages of 10 and 25 to prevent cervical cancer.
- Girls 17 and younger can receive the HPV vaccine free of charge in the 4th grade of elementary school or in their 3rd year of high school.
Your family pharmacist is an accessible health professional committed to serving you with utmost confidentiality and discretion. You can count on your pharmacist for reliable information on STIs (prevention, symptoms and treatments). Many pharmacies also offer the hepatitis B vaccine. Just ask about it!