Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) or Infections (STIs)

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What does STI mean:

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are infections spread by sexual activity. 

How do you get an STI:

STIs are transmitted by vaginal intercourse, anal sex, oral sex, close skin to skin contact with an infected individual, sharing sex toys, coming in contact with infected secretions and so on. 

Causative Organisms: 

These can be bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. 

Common bacterial STIs:

Syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, chancroid, mycoplasma, ureaplasma

Common viral STIs: 

HIV, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) , herpes simplex 1 (oral herpes), herpes simplex 2 (genital herpes) , hepatitis B, hepatitis C

Common fungal STIs: 


Some parasitic STIs: 

Trichomoniasis, scabies, crab louse

Can you get STI if both partners have no STIs? 

No. If both partners are clean, there is no risk of transmission. The point to remember is that  the STIs may not produce any symptoms for months to years. For some STIs, an individual may be a carrier and may not suffer from the disease. Hence, it is important to get screened for STIs to know your status. Most of the STIs are easily treatable, if detected early. 

Can non sexual transmission occur?

Non sexual transmissions of some of these diseases can occur. HIV, Hepatitis B , Hepatitis C can be transmitted through infected needles or by blood transfusion. In many cases, use of non sterile medical instruments has also been documented to transmit these diseases. 

Use of non sterile instruments/ needles while tattooing is another example. 

What are the symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STIs)? 

There are so many different STIs that there is a wide spectrum of signs and symptoms. In many of these diseases (but not in all), the sex organs are affected. Also, in many of these, other organs and organ systems are affected too, especially in long standing cases.  Some of these may not be symptomatic at all, while for others the symptoms may appear quite late. 

Generally speaking, the common symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STIs) are

  • Ulcer/Sore/Blisters on private parts or around anus or mouth.
  • Irregular growth (warts) in genital area.
  • Abnormal smelling and discolored vaginal discharge.
  • Discharge from penis.
  • Rash/Itching on private areas of body.
  • Pain while sexual intercourse.
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting after sexual intercourse.
  • Lower abdominal pain.
  • Pain or swelling of glands in genital area.

Is there an added risk if there are no symptoms? 

Yes.If there are no symptoms, it increases the risk of passing the disease on to others, as the carrier is unaware of their status. 

What are the possible complications? 

STIs impact the quality of sexual life, apart from causing pain/discomfort / disfigurement of the body parts like by warts. In a lot of cases , STIs lead to discord between sexual partners. At an individual level, STIs may even lead to depression. 

If STIs are left untreated, complications like the ones below may be seen

  • Chronic pain or discomfort in genital areas
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
  • HPV infection leading to cervical cancer 
  • Organ Damage
  • Infertility
  • Complications in pregnancy
  • Transmission of infection to fetus
  • HIV progressing to AIDS, if left untreated

Are Sexually Transmitted Diseases curable? 

Bacterial STIs can be cured with antibiotics if treatment begins early enough. 

The viral STIs are very effectively managed with modern medicines. 

HIV is easily managed with ART provided it is detected early. People with HIV whose viral load becomes undetectable with ART can expect normal to near normal life spans.  

It is possible to cure Hepatitis C. Hepatitis B can also be effectively managed. 

Fungal and protozoal STIs can usually be cured too.

What should I do if I suspect an Sexually Transmitted Diseases? 

If you had a potential exposure, you may look for an STI clinic near you.  You may also go for STI screening tests, voluntarily . These are a panel of tests that look for common STIs. The results will need interpretation by a doctor. 

Where can I get STI testing? 

The STI clinics in Government or private hospitals. You may also look for online services that provide support by doctors for advice regarding tests and treatment , if required. 

How can STIs be avoided?

  • Avoid sexual intercourse with unknown partners/ or people whose STI status is not known. 
  • Get tested for STIs regularly, if you are sexually active. 
  • Use condoms (Male condom/Female condom)
  • Be faithful to your partner. 
  • Avoid sharing towels or underclothing
  • Vaccinate yourself and your partner for Hepatitis B.
  • Pelvic examination should be done annually, if you are sexually active 
  • Avoid drugs or overindulgence with alcohol. 

About the author: LinkedIn  Facebook

DrArun K Mehra is a Senior Consultant in Anesthesiology and Critical Care, working in Delhi. An MBBS from UCMS, Delhi University, he specialized in Anesthesiology from JNMC, AMU, Aligarh. He has also done an MBA in Healthcare Administration from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University, a UNESCO Certificate on Principles of Bio Ethics and Human Rights, and a Diploma in Creative Writing in English from the Indira Gandhi National Open University.