Assignment 18 - Studying STI/HIV
Learning about STIs can help you be able to take care of your own body. It can help you prevent possible health and infertility problems associated with having an STI or allowing an STI to go untreated. This lesson will help you define and learn about STIs/HIV, as well as describe symptoms, effects, treatments, and prevention for common sexually transmitted infections.
Note: STI used to be known as STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) and there may still be literature and resources that use this old terminology. It was changed to STI to be more inclusive of different types of illnesses caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, etc.
STI Questions and Answers
Why is it important to learn about STIs/HIV?
- It helps you be more able to take care of your own body. The more you know, the better you can protect yourself before you get infected and treat yourself if you do get infected.
- Talking about STIs can sometimes be uncomfortable and "gross." Lots of myths are spread about how to protect yourself or how to cure yourself because people are afraid to ask a doctor or someone else about it. The internet has lots of information, but it can be very unreliable. If you know the scientific and medical facts you will be able to make the best decisions for your body.
- Being open with yourself and your partner about STIs can make both of you more aware and safe now and in the future.
What causes STIs?
- STIs, in general, are only spread when there is direct contact between two people. Some STIs can be spread by kissing, but not many. They can be passed between partners if there is genital contact or contact with the fluids from the penis or vagina. Parasites are the one exception. It's possible to get a parasitic infection from indirect contact with clothing because the parasites can get transferred onto the clothing. For example, if a person with crabs tries on a bathing suit at a store and you try on the same suit you could get infected. That is why you should always keep your own underwear on while trying on intimate clothing and wash it before wearing it yourself.
- Viral: If a virus causes a disease it's possible that the person who is infected does not know it. Viral infections can remain undetected for years. Viral STIs can be treated with medications, but they are incurable. If you are infected with a viral STI you will always have that disease for the rest of your life. Some viral STIs are more serious than others, but some of them can become life-threatening if not managed properly.
- Genital Herpes, HIV (AIDS), Hepatitis B, Genital Warts (HPV)
- Bacterial: Bacterial STIs can also go undetected if they do not show active symptoms. Men and women could have a bacterial infection and not realize it if they do not display active symptoms and get treated by a doctor. They can be treated with antibiotics and cured.
- Chlamydia, Gonorrhea (The Clap), Syphilis
- Parasites: These STIs are spread from person to person by tiny microscopic organisms. They can not be seen with the human eye, so it's hard to tell just by looking if a person is infected. The only way to know for sure is to be tested by a doctor for the presence of these organisms. They can be treated and cured with medicine, but both partners usually need to be treated to ensure the parasites don't come back.
- Examples: Trichomoniasis (Trich), Pubic Lice (Crabs), Scabies
But wouldn't I know if someone had a disease?
- The short answer to that is: No. You cannot tell just by looking if a person is infected with an STI of any type. It is possible to see some signs of disease like odd coloured discharge, itchiness, redness, or open sores on yourself or another person, but the majority of STI infections are asymptomatic. That means that they display little to no symptoms at all. You could be infected with an STI and have no idea. The majority of STI infections happen between two people who have do not even know they are sick.
- It is possible to be infected with more than one STI. Unprotected sex with multiple partners puts you at risk of developing multiple infections. For example: People with viral STIs that are incurable, like HIV, sometimes seek sexual partners that have the same disease so they don't have to worry about infecting anyone else. If they have unprotected sex they don't have to worry about infecting the other person with HIV (since both of them have it already), but they could pass on other STIs.
- Most STI infections have "flare up" times when the symptoms are present or more serious. When these symptoms go away the person usually thinks that the disease is gone and they are cured, sort of like getting over a cold or the flu. This is not true. A person with an STI can still pass on their infection even if their symptoms have gone away. The only way to ensure an infection is cured is to be treated by a doctor and tested.
What could happen if you don't get treated?
- Many people who are diagnosed with STIs actually caught them a long time ago, but they didn't realize they were sick. If you aren't tested regularly then you won't really know if you have one or not. A lot of the symptoms of STIs can be mistaken for other minor illnesses, so they can be overlooked and most people never show any symptoms. Unless a doctor checks you, you might never find out.
- If you are not treated for an STI, you can pass it on to other people unknowingly. They, in turn, can pass it on to their sexual partners, and they can pass it, and on it on it goes.
- The main complication from an STI that is left untreated is damage to your sexual organs inside your body. Infections can cause the tissues in your body to get inflamed and scar tissue can form that interferes with eggs and sperm. This may cause some men and women to be infertile, which means it will be very difficult or impossible to have a baby in the future.
- If you have an STI it can also put you at risk of catching other ones. For example: a herpes infection can cause sores to form on your genitals, which puts you at greater risk of catching HIV because your skin is broken and the blood borne viruses can get inside.
- Some STIs can even cause cancer. HPV, the virus that causes genital warts, has been conclusively linked to cervical cancer in women and some strains are linked to different cancers in men.
How do HIV and AIDS and Hepatitis differ from other STIs?
- These diseases are spread by close sexual contact and the exchange of blood between two people. They are viral diseases that have life-threatening symptoms. They are also incurable, which means you will be infected by the virus for the rest of your life. Even if a person is not displaying symptoms of these diseases, it is possible for them to pass it on to their partners.
- Because they can be passed between people by blood contact, they can also be spread through many different means. Some of which are: blood transfusions, sharing needles for drug use, body piercings, and tattoos. Even doctors, nurses, and first aid responders need to be careful when treating people because they may come in contact with infected blood at their job and in turn pass the disease on to their sexual partners.
How can you prevent STIs?
- The only way to 100% protect yourself against STIs is to practice abstinence, which means you don't have sex. You can have still have some intimate contact with your partner by kissing and touching because these activities don't pass on infections.
- Use protection every time you have sexual contact with another person. Men can protect themselves by wearing a condom. Women can use a female condom or a dental dam to protect themselves. These methods can prevent the spread of most STIs, but they aren't 100% effective. Also, only the area that is covered by the plastic is protected. If a person has a sore or has parasites that aren't covered by the protection this can be passed on to their partner.
- Communicating with your partner is also a key part of preventing infections. If you tell your partner about your sexual history and you know theirs, then you will be more aware if you are at risk of an STI. This isn't entirely foolproof though because people may be infected with an STI and not know it, or they could know about an STI and be dishonest with you. Limiting your sexual partners can also help reduce your risk of STIs because you have less exposures, but again, it's not totally reliable because it only takes one infected partner to put you at risk.
- Getting tested regularly is an important step towards preventing STIs from spreading. It won't help you from getting and STI, but it can cure you before you pass it on to others, unless the infection is a viral one. If you are sexually active you should get tested every year, or more frequently if you have multiple partners. Even if you are only having sex with one partner, it's still important to be tested occasionally. It is something that you have to ask your doctor to do, but the test is easy. The tests are free and you can get the results back within 1-2 weeks. These clinics are confidential and at some clinics you don't even need to give them your real name if you don't want to. (But you do need to give them your real address and phone number so they can contact you with the results.) If you are a teen you can visit an STI Clinic or Sexual Health clinic and get tested without your parents being there. Your parents aren't notified of your test results either because they are private information, but it's a good idea for you to tell them anyway. Telling your parents is usually the best plan about anything going on in your life, even something hard to talk about like STIs.
Where can I go to find out more?
- A doctor - Your family doctor, at a medi-centre or walk in clinic, at an STI clinic, at a community health centre
- A nurse - A public health nurse or one who works at a clinic or community health centre
- Teachers - Any teacher should be able to tell you where to find accurate information, but Health teachers often know more specific information
- Reliable Sources - The internet can be a source of good information, but be careful! Not all online sources are accurate or reliable. Ensure the websites you are looking at are from a health services agency or medical source. Yahoo Answers is not a good source of information. Some good websites are listed as sources for the assignment below.
Assignment 3 - Studying STI/HIV
Your task is to create an informative medical presentation or written resource on STIs. This can be a videotaped presentation, an animation, a Powerpoint, a series of posters, a website, a pamphlet, or any other written or multimedia presentation.
Your purpose for this presentation is to give teens meaningful and relevant information about STIs in a way that they will understand and appreciate. Try to use language that kids your age would understand. Maybe add some humor into your presentation. But remember to be informative and accurate as well. You don't want to give people the wrong information just because you're trying to be cool or make a joke.
1. Choose one STI from each category. You'll end up choosing 3 in total.
- Viral STIs: Genital Herpes, HIV (AIDS), Hepatitis B, Genital Warts (HPV)
- Bacterial STIs: Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis
- Parasitic STIs: Trichomoniasis, Pubic Lice, Scabies
2. Do some research on them. Here are some reliable websites you can use, or you can do your own research.
- STI Fact Sheets (Alberta Health Services) - http://teachers.teachingsexualhealth.ca/resources/print-resources/sti-fact-sheets/
- STI Pamphlet (Public Health Agency of Canada) - http://librarypdf.catie.ca/PDF/ATI-20000s/24801.pdf
- STIs and Young People (American Social Health Association) - http://www.iwannaknow.org/teens/sti/sti_overview.html
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (California Family Health Council) - http://www.teensource.org/std
- STDs and Safe Sex (Maternal and Family Health Services Pennsylvania) - http://www.safeteens.org/stds/
3. Answer all of the following questions about each STI.
- It it caused by a virus, bacteria, or parasite?
- How it it transmitted (passed between people)?
- What symptoms do men get? What symptoms do women get?
- How do they test and diagnose this STI?
- Can the STI be cured? What treatments are available? If it is incurable, how can the disease be managed?
- If left untreated, what possible effects can it have on your health?
- How can you prevent the spread of this STI
4. Create your presentation and attach it here. If you use Google Docs, please post the shareable link.