Can I Get a Sexually Transmitted Infection in 10 Seconds?

Most STIs spread by having sex, including digital, vaginal and oral sex. But they can also spread by genital touching and sharing needles and other items that come into contact with body fluids.

Getting tested and treated early can help prevent more serious problems. So don’t be afraid to talk with your healthcare provider about your sex life and sexual history.

1. Human papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is a virus that infects the skin, genital area and lining of the cervix. It is spread through unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex and can also be transmitted during non-penetrative sex including prolonged intimate skin contact. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection and can lead to genital warts and cancers in the uterus, vulva and ovaries.

There are over 100 different types of HPV and most infections with low-risk types cause no health complications. However, high-risk HPV may cause genital warts and cancer in the vulva, anus, or throat.

Vaccination with the HPV vaccine is effective against most strains of HPV. This vaccine is offered to children and people assigned female at birth through a public health system and private clinics. It is recommended that anyone aged 9 to 45 gets vaccinated against HPV. Once you have experienced one strain of HPV, you won’t get that specific type again but a new strain may develop – This part of the article was prepared by the service’s editorial team A short gap between relationships can also help reduce the risk of getting a new strain by giving your body time to clear the virus from your body.

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2. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1)

Herpesviruses are classified into two families and eight sub-families based on their evolutionary relationships, their unique biological properties, and the host tissues where they cause infection. Herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) are classified in the alpha herpesvirus subfamily, characterized by their short replicative cycle and their ability to establish latent infection in sensory nerve ganglia.

HSV-1 spreads easily from person to person through contact with infected saliva or skin sores. HSV-1 causes sores around the mouth and lips called cold sores or fever blisters, and it can also cause genital herpes. Most cases of genital herpes are caused by herpes simplex virus type 2, which may cause sores around the genitals and rectum.

Herpesviruses are persistent infections that never completely go away, even if they’re inactive. They can reactivate in response to certain stimuli, including stress, menstruation, and some medications. In immunocompetent hosts, herpes virus reactivation is usually asymptomatic, but in people with advanced HIV disease or other immune suppression, herpes viruses can cause more severe symptomatic outbreaks. Rare complications include encephalitis and disseminated herpes, which can lead to death.

3. Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG)

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is produced by the cells that surround a fertilised egg and eventually form the placenta (called trophoblasts). After an egg is fertilised, it implants into the wall of the uterus to start forming a new layer of cells called the decidua. The hCG triggers the corpus luteum to start producing progesterone and other hormones to help support the pregnancy. It is the substance that most over-the-counter and hospital pregnancy tests detect.

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HCG levels rise quickly after conception and are highest during the first trimester (10 weeks of pregnancy). Healthcare providers look at a person’s hCG level to confirm and monitor a pregnancy and to check how the fetus is developing.

High levels of hCG can indicate pregnancy, but low hCG levels suggest that the embryo has not implanted and is failing (ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage). Rarely, elevated hCG levels in the blood or urine can also be an indication of a tumour of the placenta (hydatiform mole or molar pregnancies) or choriocarcinoma.

4. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

HIV damages your immune system by killing white blood cells that help fight infection. This makes your body more vulnerable to infections and diseases that wouldn’t normally make you sick. If HIV isn’t treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

You can get HIV from vaginal, anal or oral sex, using unprotected injected drugs and sharing injection drug equipment. It can also spread from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. You can get a test to find out if you have HIV, or AIDS. These tests can check for the presence of a virus called p24 and antibodies to the HIV protein. They can be done at a health care provider’s office or with an at-home test kit.

If you have a positive result, you can start taking antiviral medicines right away. This reduces the chance of passing HIV to others and helps you stay healthy. The risk of transmission can be lowered by always using condoms during sex, not sharing injection drug needles and making sure that reusable needles and syringes are sterilized before reuse (see question 19). You can also lower your risk by not having unprotected sex and by following universal precautions in health care settings.

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5. Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a very common infection that most people don’t even know they have. It can cause vaginal discharge, urethral discharge in men, and genital ulcers in women. It can also lead to infertility, and it can cause an abnormal hysterosalpingogram (X-ray of the uterus).

Many health care providers screen for chlamydia during routine STI screenings at gynecology clinics or sexual health centers. They may ask for a urine sample or use a cotton swab to test for chlamydia in the vagina or cervix, in the urethra or anus, and on the rectum (in men).

Anyone who has sex should get tested for chlamydia, including people who have only had anal sex, as well as those who have had vaginal, oral, or rectal sex. Most chlamydia infections are curable, and it’s important that you get treated as soon as possible so that you don’t pass on the infection to your sexual partners or suffer from long-term complications. It’s recommended that you abstain from sex for a week after finishing treatment and until your sexual partner has been tested and treated, unless they’re pregnant.

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