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Let’s talk about STDs & STIs

April is STD Awareness Month and we believe it is time to focus on this important topic. According to the WHO (World Health Organization) around 1 million STIs are acquired every day worldwide. STIs, STDs, VDs … Everyone heard of these terms while growing up and exploring their sexual life.

What do they actually mean and what is the difference between them? Let’s dive in!

STI stands for sexually transmitted infection. It happens when a sexually transmitted bacteria or virus enters the body and starts to multiply.

STD stands for sexually transmitted disease. This happens when a sexually transmitted infection is not treated and develops into a disease.

VD stands for venereal disease. It has the same meaning as STD but because of the stigma created around this word (in the past this disease was thought to affect only sex workers and sailors, bringing therefore a negative connotation) now STD/STI is predominately used. Venereal refers mostly to sexual intercourse, but STIs can be acquired also through skin to skin contact, therefore it is not an accurate representation of infections related to sexual activities.

When it comes to sexually transmitted diseases, they all start as infections. Yet not all STIs develop into an STD. Short, an STI is only considered an STD when it causes symptoms.

The transmission of an STIs can happen through skin-to-skin contact with a person who has an infection; others are transmitted through an exchange of bodily fluids, like semen, vaginal secretions, or blood.

The main curable STIs are as follows: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis.

Other STIs that can develop into dangerous diseases are:

  • HIV. To find out more about how HIV developed in humans and why it still doesn’t have a cure, read our HIV dedicated article

  • HPV. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, therefore we dedicated an entire month to this topic. Read in our blog what HPV is, how you can prevent it, available screening methods and the experience of living with cervical cancer.

Although the prevalence of STIs is very high, it still remains a neglected field.

Half of the STIs happen to sexually active young adults between 15 and 24 years old, with preponderance in developing countries. Up to 90% of STIs are transmitted in developing countries, where access to prevention and diagnostic measures is lower than in developed countries.

STI consequences

  • Even though many STIs are curable, if they are not treated in time, they lead to health complications, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy , infertility, chronic pelvic pain, neurological and cardiovascular diseases

  • STIs acquired during pregnancy can cause fetal (inside the womb) or neonatal (newborn) death, premature delivery, eye infections, pneumonia and neonatal encephalitis (neurological dysfunction caused by the lack of oxygen to the baby during birth)

  • STIs can increase the risks of HIV infection and cause modifications in cells that may develop to cancer

  • STIs predominantly affect marginalized groups, such as sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), increasing stigma, compromising the quality of life and increasing difficulties in prioritizing national STI control policies

  • Infections with HPV can lead to genital warts and cervical cancer

Risk factors

  • High number of sexual partners

  • New sex partners

  • Use of drugs (it is linked to risky sexual behavior)

  • Prior history of STIs

  • Use of erectile dysfunctions medication in older men (it is linked with risky sexual behavior)

  • Travelling (recent travel is considered as well a risk factors as studies show that STIs have been found in approx.. 3% of illnesses in returning travelers)

The US Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasizes the importance of prevention by focusing on the 5 Ps:

  • Partner

  • Prevention of pregnancy

  • Protection from STIs

  • Sexual Practices

  • Past history

Health Programs that control the STI prevalence focus on the following components:

  • Identifying and treating infected people

  • Counseling on sexual behavior and offering guidance on how to change them

  • Identifying sexual partners in order to stop transmission

  • These approaches reduce the transmission of STIs but need to be undergone along with appropriate treatment and screening strategies

  • Health providers can offer patient-delivered partner therapy in which the partner of the infected patient receives treatment as well (this service is dependent on the country and legislation in use)

WHO set the goal to significantly decrease the incidence of STIs by the end of the year 2030. The organization aims to implement programs that will result in:

  • 90% reduction of T. pallidum (bacteria responsible for syphilis)

  • 90% reduction of N. gonorrhoeae (bacteria responsible for gonorrhea)

  • 50 or fewer cases of congenital syphilis (when the mother passes the infection with syphilis to her baby during birth) per 100 000 live births in 80% of countries

  • Support 90% coverage of HPV vaccine through national immunization programs in more than 80% of countries worldwide

Thanks to the increased awareness about STI in the last decades, we are happy to share the following milestones for the year 2020:

  • 70% of countries worldwide have health programs that monitor STIs cases

  • In 70% of countries worldwide, around 95% of pregnant women get tested for HIV and syphilis

  • 90% of HIV-positive and 95% of syphilis-positive pregnant women received treatment

  • 70% of HIV positive patients have access to healthcare services and measures to prevent transmission

  • 70% of countries worldwide provide STI services such as HIV education, reproductive health, family planning and antenatal and postnatal care services

Stay tuned for the following weeks as we dive into the following STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis.

Be smart. Be (c)LIT. Fly with us!🌺🐝


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