What are STIs?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – sometimes called STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) – are infections you can pick up and pass on during sex.

They can be caused by one of three things:

  1. Viruses
    eg, HIV, herpes and the liver infection hepatitis.
    Viruses are harder to treat but with time your body often gets rid of a virus on its own. You can be vaccinated against some viruses, eg Hepatitis A and B.
  2. Bacteria
    eg, Gonorrhoea, Chlamydia and Syphilis.
    Infections caused by bacteria are usually easily cured with antibiotics.
  3. Parasites
    Are the cause of two STIs: pubic lice and scabies.
    Both can be caught without having sex, eg, from bedding and towels, but this isn’t common.



Some STIs can cause symptoms within a few days. Symptoms of others may not show for days, weeks or months. Sometimes you may notice no symptoms at all or mistake them for something else. Whether you have symptoms or not, a sexual health check-up will detect any infections.


How can I stay safer?

Using a condom or Femidom cuts the chances of getting or passing on STIs, and the condom or Femidom is the only type of contraception that offers any protection against them. Condoms and Femidoms don’t take away all the risk as they may not cover the part of the body where the STI is, such as a herpes sore or syphilis rash. Also, some STIs are spread during types of sex where people are not likely to use condoms or Femidoms, eg, oral sex.

You could get an STI if you have very few partners but the fact is the more sexual partners you have sex with – especially if condoms aren’t used – the more likely you are to have sex with someone with an infection. These reduce the risk of STIs being passed on:

  •   using condoms or Femidoms
  •   having fewer partners
  •   being checked for STIs.


Page content supplied by www.tht.org.uk. Copyright 2012 © Terrence Higgins Trust.

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