STIs, or sexually transmitted infections, are a group of diseases with varying severity, but any delay in their detection and treatment can turn a mild infection into a chronic disease. To prevent such an exacerbation, it is best to identify the signs and symptoms of an STI as soon as possible.
The first appearance of any signs and symptoms of any given disease is an indication of the ensuing infectious process. The first signs and symptoms of an STI usually include a genital rash, genital discharge, and blisters - depending on the type of infection.
There are also constitutional symptoms that resemble that of a common cold. These symptoms include fever, headache, and chronic fatigue. Unexplained weight loss may also point toward a diagnosis of an STI.
In order to detect the earliest signs and symptoms of an STI, you need to know what they are first.
HOW WOULD YOU KNOW IF YOU HAD AN STD?
As mentioned before, early detection of any STI is key to receiving proper treatment.
Early detection can only be done when you know what you are doing. The signs and symptoms of any disease can only be picked up when you know what you are looking for.
These are the most common symptoms of STIs. These symptoms, however, are not conclusive in their approach, and a medical consult is always required to confirm the diagnosis.
A genital rash is one of the most common signs of an STI. STIs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and HPV may present with a genital rash; this rash could be papular or maculopapular and causes severe itching.
Keep in mind that not all genital rashes represent a sexually transmitted infection.
Genital discharge is also one of the most common signs of an STI. Genital discharge can be of various colors; however, the most common presentation is a greyish-white discharge from the penis or the vagina.
Discharge can also be associated with a burning sensation while peeing as well as fistula formation. Sexually transmitted infections which present with genital discharge include gonorrhea, chlamydia, HPV, trichomoniasis, and syphilis.
UNEXPLAINED WEIGHT LOSS
Usually, unexplained weight loss over the course of several years is a representation of a sinister disease process.
While unexplained weight loss is most commonly associated with either cancer or tuberculosis, it is also one of the confounding signs of sexually transmitted infections.
STIs present with weight loss simply because they lower the immunity of the affected individual.
One of the hallmark signs of sexually transmitted infections is lowered immunity of the infected individual, which presents as recurrent infections in a short span of time. Undoubtedly, this is the most bothersome and debilitating symptom of any sexually transmitted infection.
Other than these specific signs and symptoms, there are also some constitutional symptoms of all STIs. These constitutional symptoms resemble those of the common cold and include stuffer nose, headaches, watery eyes, muscle fatigue and multiple spikes of fever.
WHEN SHOULD I VISIT MY DOCTOR?
In the setting of STI diagnosis and screening, it's very important to visit a professional health care provider on time. Even a slight delay in diagnosis can result in treatment delay, which can mean the difference between a cured patient and a chronically debilitated patient.
For example, even if a person acquires HIV, appropriate prophylactic treatment, such as post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP, can halt the disease progression. However, even this extremely effective prophylactic treatment can only work up to 72 hours after exposure to HIV.
You should visit your healthcare provider as soon as you develop any of the confounding as well as constitutional symptoms of STIs. If you have felt any of the symptoms listed above, inform your doctor at the earliest.
Another indication to visit your healthcare provider for STI screening is if you have indulged in unprotected sexual intercourse with a new partner in the past few months. Sometimes sexually transmitted infections can take up to several months to present with any symptoms at all. Therefore, contact tracing dating back up to a year should be employed.
ARE STIs CURABLE?
STIs, generally, are a range of infections that can present as mild, self-resolving infections to full-blown debilitating diseases.
As a general rule of thumb, STIs caused by bacteria and parasites are mostly completely curable. These conditions, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can be completely eliminated with large doses of iv antibiotics. Only rarely do these conditions progress enough to become a problem for the patient and require specialized care.
Viral STDs, on the other hand, are not curable.
Viruses, unlike bacteria and parasites, are very adept at maneuvering through an activated immune system. Viruses can become dormant and hide in the spinal ganglions for years and sometimes even for life. This is why viral STIs can only be managed with effective treatment and not cured completely.
However, despite not being able to cure diseases like HIV and Herpes, there is effective treatment available to treat these conditions.
ART, antiretroviral therapy, can decrease the viral load of a patient down to negligible levels (less than 50 viral particles).
HOW CAN I PREVENT GETTING AN STI?
STI prevention primarily depends on the elimination of high-risk sexual behaviors and the administration of super-added protection.
High-risk behaviors for STI transmission include;
● Unprotected sexual intercourse
● Sexual intercourse with multiple partners
● Homosexual sexual intercourse
● Sharing personal hygiene items
● Getting tattoos from unlicensed parlors
● Not getting screened for STIs regularly
Using condoms for every sexual encounter is the best way to prevent STI transmission and, in particular, HIV. In fact, condoms are the only method of birth control that also provides nearly 100% protection against a plethora of STIs, including HIV.
While there is no vaccination available for HIV, there are several treatment options that decrease an individual's risk of acquiring HIV even before exposure. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is one such treatment regime that decreases the chance of acquiring HIV down to virtually zero when used properly.
Regular testing and screening for HIV and other STIs also go a long way in protecting against STIs.