Just returned from a backpacking trip? I bet you have brought back lots of souvenirs, mementos, memories, photos, a lovely tan…? What about Chlamydia, Genital Warts, Herpes, or even HIV?
Yes that innocent looking, healthy, gorgeous person you had unprotected sex with may look like they are clean or may have reassured you they have no infections but how do you know? Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have no symptoms… (50% of men and 70-80% of women don’t get symptoms at all with Chlamydia infection), so if some people who have an STI don’t know they are infected- how do you know?
Sun, sea and sex can go hand in hand together with perhaps an increased alcohol intake- ‘beer goggles’ can cause misjudgements about people we sleep with abroad. Inhibitions are lowered and an ‘anything goes’ attitude is created. So you may have also brought back more than you expected from your trip in the form of an STI.
STIs are infections that are spread primarily through person-to-person sexual contact. Blood borne viruses e.g. HIV, Hepatitis B can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth, and through blood products.
Common infections include:
- Human immunodeficiency virus (causes AIDS)
- Herpes simplex virus 1 and type 2 (causes genital herpes)
- Human papillomavirus (causes genital warts and certain other subtypes lead to cervical cancer in women)
- Hepatitis B virus (causes hepatitis and chronic cases may lead to cancer of the liver)
World Health Organisation stats:
- 499 million new infections of curable sexually transmitted (syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis) infections occur yearly. throughout the world with the largest proportion in the region of south and south-east Asia, followed by sub Saharan Africa, and Latin American and the Caribbean, in adults aged 15-49 years
- Sexually transmitted infections are an important cause of infertility in men and women.
- Drug resistance, especially for gonorrhoea, is a major threat to STI control globally.
- STIs can increase the risk of HIV acquisition three-fold or more
- Untreated gonococcal and chlamydial infections in women will result in pelvic inflammatory disease in up to 40% of cases. One in four of these will result in infertility
- Herpes simplex virus type 2 infection is the leading cause of genital ulcer disease in developing countries. Data from sub-Saharan Africa show that 30% to 80% of women and 10% to 50% of men are infected. Among women in Central and South America, prevalence ranges from 20% to 40%. In the developing Asian countries, prevalence in the general population ranges from 10% to 30%. In the United States of America, the prevalence of the HSV 2 infection among 14–49-year-olds is 19%
- Hepatitis B virus results in an estimated 350 million cases of chronic hepatitis and at least one million deaths each year from liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Condoms Condoms Condoms!
Think about your sexual health (and contraception) before you go, especially if you are visiting one of the higher risk countries on your travels, and always insist on using a condom! Using a condom greatly reduces your risk for an STI or unwanted pregnancy.
Take a supply of UK kite mark condoms, which you can obtain here at SHS, and take care with latex condoms as these can be damaged with oil based lubricants- Vaseline, sun screen etc… Take an adequate supply of contraception or emergency contraception as these may not be easily obtained in certain countries.
Watch your alcohol and drug intake too, as an increased consumption of these may lead you to having unprotected sex. Think about having a hepatitis B vaccination course before you travel.
Remember it takes only one episode of unprotected sex to leave you with an STI, unwanted pregnancy or HIV.
If you have had unprotected sex whilst away- book into SHS or your local sexual health clinic for a full STI screen.
Remember that some STIs don’t have any symptoms so it’s always worth having a check up on your return.
If you do develop any symptoms don’t worry, just book an appointment to get yourself checked out.