Health

Faithful couples are still at risk of sexually transmitted infections

Here are symptoms and treatments for common sexually transmitted infections

The notion that sexual disease transmission usually involves having sex with one or multiple partners is not always true.

Couples who are in a faithful, monogamous relationship or never had sex before are at risk of STI (sexually transmitted infections) as well.

Whether it is kissing, skin-to-skin contact, vaginal, oral or anal sex, each of these interactions can pose a risk of disease transmission.

Dr Julian Hong from DTAP Express - the first specialised self-testing clinic in Singapore that offers on-demand, express and discreet self-testing services for blood tests and STI tests - provides insights on the top three STIs, why this happens, how to recognise the symptoms and what are the treatments available.

HSV-1

Also known as herpes simplex virus 1, it is an incurable virus that commonly causes cold sores and oral ulcers, in and around the lip and gums, which usually cause discomfort especially when eating.

However, when the cold sore or ulcer is healing, one may not experience or realise its presence. When kissing your partner, you may spread the virus to him or her and cause them to develop symptoms.

If you've engaged in oral sex, your partner may then develop ulcers around the genital region caused by HSV-1.

According to the World Health Organisation, about 70 per cent of the world's population are carriers of HSV-1.

The good news is that oral and genital herpes are often asymptomatic, and do not spread to your partner when there are no active ulcers.

They only flare up in a person's body when the person's immune system is weakened and conversely become contagious through contact when an ulcer is present. The frequency of flare-ups can occur every few months, to every few years to even every few decades.

And one experiences symptoms of being tired, chills, fever, body ache and then the emergence of painful ulcers, often in the same place either at the genitals or mouth.

One can get an accurate diagnosis with a swab test of the active ulcer or a blood test two to three months after an active infection. Getting a diagnosis can equip you with knowledge on how to prevent this infection with lysine supplements or treating any active ulcers with antiviral tablets such as Valtrex. If left untreated, these ulcers often get painful and will run its course over two to three weeks.

HPV WARTS

These are cauliflower-like warts caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

There are over 100 strains of HPV viruses, and apart from the 14 cancer-causing high-risk strains, there are also numerous strains which are low-risk that cause HPV warts.

HPV warts do not turn into cancer but are often unsightly and manifest themselves in and around the genital region.

HPV viruses exist on each of our bodies and those present on our bodies are often controlled by our immune system and do not cause any major symptoms.

However, during sexual contact, these HPV viruses are exchanged with your partner and vice versa, where these new HPV viruses not detected by your body before, would then cause HPV warts to develop.

The good news is that although it is unsightly, these low-risk HPV-causing warts are often harmless and can be treated with a variety of options including creams, freezing with liquid nitrogen and even ablation with heat or electrocautery.

Although they are easily treatable, what is of greater concern is getting vaccinated against the high-risk strains such as 16, 18 and 45, which affect women more because of its risk of causing cervical cancer. This life-threatening condition can easily be prevented with vaccination.

BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS

One of the biggest causes of a fishy and foul-smelling vaginal discharge is this condition that occurs when there is an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the vagina.

It is often caused by a bacteria called Gardnerella.

In the event of a big build-up of bacteria, it can also cause one to develop vaginitis symptoms - inflammation and pain of the vagina, resulting in swelling, pain and even painful sexual intercourse.

Until now, doctors and scientists do not know the exact mechanism of how this occurs but sex with or without condoms often exacerbates this condition.

It can be easily diagnosed with a vaginal swab, and treatment comes in the form of vaginal pessaries or oral antibiotics to eradicate this infection.

MEDICAL & HEALTH