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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are increasingly common in the UK and the number is rising annually.
Last year, there were nearly half a million new cases of STDs reported from clinics across the UK.
This increase is undoubtedly because more and more people are having active, but sometimes risky, sex lives – often with several partners.
Which infections are we talking about?
Below you'll find a number of conditions that are currently being seen by genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics in the UK.
Please bear in mind that some of them (most notably thrush) may not have been acquired through sex.
There are over 200,000 new people diagnosed with chlamydia in the UK each year. Countless others have the infection but they do not realise it.
Chlamydia is the most common and fastest-spreading sexually transmitted disease in the UK. It's caused by a bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis.
Unfortunately, many people (particularly females) have no symptoms at all. Where symptoms do occur, they may include pain in passing urine and a discharge. They usually appear approximately 7 to 21 days after infection.
Chlamydia can cause problems with fertility in men and women as well as a reactive arthritis and eye problems.
There are around 30,000 new cases of gonorrhoea a year in the UK. This number has risen steadily over the past 10 years and has jumped up by an astonishing 53% since 2012.
Gonorrhoea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacterium that grows and multiplies quickly in moist, warm areas of the body – such as the cervix, urethra, mouth, or rectum. The cervix is the most common site of infection in women.
However, the disease can also spread to the Fallopian tubes and other internal genital organs, causing such conditions as salpingitis and pelvic inflammatory disease.
These may lead to to infertility.
Gonorrhoea is most commonly spread during genital contact, but it can also be passed from the genitals of one partner to the throat of the other during oral sex.
New multi-resistant strains of gonorrhhoea are causing particular concern with "super strains" of the bacteria proving difficult to treat.
Around 35,000 new cases of gential herpes are seen in the UK each year. It is believed that some thousands of other people developed herpes but were not seen at a clinic.
Genital herpes is a highly contagious viral condition caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV infection, Type I usually affects the oral area (lips) and Type II affects the genitals.
It affects women more than men.
There is no cure, although outbreaks can be controlled.
It infects the skin and mucous membranes of the genitals or rectum, but it can also appear in areas such as the mouth, particularly the lips.
Its chief symptom is an outbreak of small blisters, and these can be very painful.
Testing for herpes simplex usually includes a blood test for antibodies against Type I and II, as well as a viral swab, looking for evidence of the virus on the genitalia.
Outbreaks are controlled with anti-viral medication such as Aciclovir, which we are happy to prescribe.
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Commonest sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in UK
HIV - 'human immunodeficiency virus'
The Health Protection Agency estimates that currently there are over 120,000 people in the UK who are HIV-positive, but around a quarter of them do not know
that they have the virus.
Some of those who are HIV-positive will go on to develop AIDS and its complications.
AIDS is a potentially fatal disease.
HIV invades and destroys the immune system, which protects the body from infection. This means that a person who carries the HIV virus is prone to many different illnesses and may die from diseases that are harmless to healthy people.
In some countries, particularly those located in Sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV rates are very high. For instance, in the Republic of South Africa it's estimated that about 10% of the population is HIV-positive.
Genital warts (HPV)
At the present time, UK clinics see about 100,000 new cases of genital warts a year. Many other people develop warts, but they are not seen at clinics.
Warts, or condylomata acuminata, are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Many months can pass from the time of infection to the actual development of warts, so it may be very difficult to determine who you got them from.
In women, HPV can lead to microscopic changes in the cervix and to the development of cervical cancer.
HPV is now thought to be associated with various other cancers, including carcinoma of the anus and possibly of the throat and adjoining regions.
Public Health England reports a 76% increase in the number of cases of syphilis in the UK since 2012.
If left untreated, syphilis is a dangerous and life-threatening disease. It's caused by a corkscrew-shaped germ called Treponema pallidum.
It's passed on by intercourse or by almost any other form of sexual interaction.
The first symptom appears between 9 and 90 days after exposure to the germ that causes it. A small lump develops at the infection site, and this soon breaks down to form a painless ulcer called a chancre.
Later, there is a secondary stage (characterised by fever, rashes and throat ulcers), and eventually a tertiary stage in which the bacteria attack the brain, spinal cord and other organs, which can be very serious, leading to stoke, paralysis, blindness and even death.
Trichomonas Vaginalis (TV)
Trichomonas vaginalis (often known as 'TV') is a protozoan 'bug' that affects the vagina.
It causes a green or yellowish, bubbly vaginal discharge and intense vulval soreness. It also produces a 'fishy' smell.
However, some women have no symptoms at all, and men rarely do.
For unknown reasons, the incidence of 'TV' in the UK has declined sharply in recent years, though it is reported as still being common in the USA. Only about 6,000 cases were diagnosed in UK clinics last year. In addition, a substantial number were treated by GPs.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
The diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis (BV) has become common during the last 10 years, with about 97,000 women per year being seen in GUM clinics, and an unknown number being treated elsewhere.
BV is a common cause of vaginal discharge. The
discharge is usually whitish or greyish or sometimes yellowish, and tends to have an off-putting ‘fishy’ odour.
Unlike the discharges caused by thrush or trichomonas,
it is not usually associated with soreness, discomfort or itching.
It is uncertain whether BV is transmitted sexually, especially as there is no equivalent condition in males.
Treatment is very simple and effcetive using an oral antibiotic medication called Metronidazole.