STIs are sextually transmitted infections. STIs are passed by having unprotected sexual contact with somebody who is infected.
To prevent the spread of STIs, use a condom. Condoms are available for free for your college through the National Condom Distribution Service.
For information on where your college has free condoms, please contact your Students’ Union.
Chlamydia is caused by a type of bacteria that is spread through sex or infected genital fluids (such as semen or vaginal fluids). This can be passed through unprotected sex (oral, vaginal, or anal), using unwashed or unprotected sex toys, or from mother to baby during delivery.
Chlamydia can infect the cervix, urethra, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, testicles, rectum, pharynx and sometimes the eyes.
If contracted, chlamydia can be treated with a course of antibiotics.
Most people who have chlamydia do not notice that there is anything wrong or different. According to the HSE, half of the men who had chlamydia did not know, where 7 in 10 women were unaware that they had chlamydia.
If you develop symptoms of chlamydia, you are likely to develop them between 1-28 days after you had sexual contact with somebody who infected.
The symptoms of chlamydia for people with a penis are as follows:
- Discharge from the penis
- Pain or discomfort when passing urine
- Bowel symptoms such as diarrhoea, pain, mucus discharge, or bleeding from the rectum
- Pain or swelling from one or both testicles
The symptoms of chlamydia for people with vaginas are as follows:
- Bleeding after sex
- Bleeding between periods
- Change in vaginal discharge
- Pain while passing urine
- Pain in abdomen
Testing for chlamydia is an easy process. A urine sample or vaginal swab may be taken. You may also have a swap of the rectum or pharynx taken.
Chlamydia is the most common type of STI in Ireland. According to the data found in ‘Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in Ireland: Trends to the end of 2021’, there has been a 4.3% rise in cases across Ireland.
49% of cases of chlamydia in Ireland falls between the 15–24-year-old age bracket and is currently more common in females than males.
LGV stands for Lymphogranuloma Venereum. This is a type of chlamydia that is most common in men who have sex with other men (MSM).
LGV is not common but has been becoming more prevalent since the early 2000s. A high number of people who have LGV are also living with HIV. However, it is important to note that you do not have to be HIV positive to have LGV.
LGV is contracted through unprotected anal, vaginal and oral sex, rimming, fingering or by using unwashed or unprotected sex toys.
This causes rectum pains, bleeding or pus from the rectum, bowel symptoms, genital ulcers, and swollen lymph glands. These symptoms normally begin to develop around 3 days to 3 weeks after sexual contact with somebody who has been infected.
LGV is treatable through a longer course of antibiotics than chlamydia infections.
Genital Herpes (HSV)
Genital herpes is a viral infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is commonly associated with oral herpes (such as cold sores) whereas type 2 are most commonly associated with genital herpes.
Genital herpes is a common form of STIs in Ireland, with a 15% rise in cases in the last year. 68% of cases were among females between the ages of 20-24.
This STI can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, kissing, vaginal and anal sex, oral sex, sharing unclean sex toys and through mother to baby feeding.
Most people who have genital herpes and pass it on are unaware that they have it. This is because there may be no physical symptoms to having it. The virus is capable of becoming active on the skin without causing any visible blisters or sores.
After the infection, the virus can lay dormant in the nerve cells of the area. This can then reactivate and cause reoccurring outbreaks.
If you do have symptoms of genital herpes, the first outbreak is the most severe. This may take from 2-12 days after sexual contact with a person who is infected to show. This outbreak will have multiple sores or red bumps around the genitals. These are painful, and over time they will break open and form ulcers. These will then gradually crust over and form a new skin as they heal. You may also have swollen glands in the groin or pain when passing urine, as well as having flu-like symptoms and feel unwell.
If there are visible blisters, genital herpes testing can be carried out by a nurse or doctor, who will take a swap of the blisters. A blood sample may also be taken to search for the possibility of previous infections.
If you have genital herpes for the first time, you may be given an anti-viral tablet. This will be taken for 3-5 days, depending on the severity of it. You may also be given a local aesthetic cream for the pain and be recommended to take pain killers for relief.
If you have reoccurring outbreaks, you may be put on an antiviral medication for 6 months- 1 years. These outbreaks will be less intense than the initial infection and will heal quicker.
Genital warts are caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). While there are different types of HPV, types 6-11 are most commonly associated with genital warts. This is the most common type of STI worldwide between 18–28-year-olds.
Genital warts are passed through skin-to-skin contact. You do not need to have had penetrative sex to contract genital warts.
While most people do not have any symptoms of genital warts, they may occur as flesh-coloured lumps.
Testing for genital warts can be done by a doctor or nurse examining the area.
While this STI may go on its own, they may stay for months. For this reason, most people prefer to get treatment. This treatment might take a while and includes:
- Surgery (if the warts are severe and do not respond to other treatments)
Gonorrhoea is a curable a bacterial infection caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This is the second most common STI in Ireland, with a 2.3% rise in cases in the past year. 90% of these cases are men, with the most common age bracket of these men being 25-29 years old.
Gonorrhoea is spread through unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex, rimming or unwashed sex toys. Once contracted, it can infect the cervix, urethra, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, testicles, rectum, pharynx, and the eyes.
Most women who contract gonorrhoea experience no symptoms, however, they can still pass the STI on to their sexual partners. While 1 in 10 men do not experience symptoms, they may experience discharge from the penis, or burning when passing urine.
Testing for gonorrhoea will depend on the symptoms experienced. They may swab the penis, vagina, throat or rectum and take a urine sample.
Gonorrhoea can be treated through a course of antibiotics. You may also have an injection into a muscle on your bum.
Gonorrhoea may be treated straight away, even if you have not received a positive STI test. This may be if your sexual partner has been infected, or if you have symptoms.
Syphilis is caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum. Infections of syphilis has risen 25.4% in the last year, most commonly contracted by men ages 30-34, and women ages 25-29.
Syphilis is caught through skin-to-skin contact, as well as direct contact with a syphilis sore. It can also be contracted through unprotected sex. Syphilis can be contracted through a blood transfusion; however, this is unlikely in Ireland due to the fact that all blood donors are tested.
This can be tested through a blood test. STI at home testing kits can also detected syphilis even if you are experiencing no symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, sexualwellbeing.ie recommends that you go to an STI clinic.
Syphilis can be treated and cured through a course of antibiotics, which are usually given through an injection of penicillin. These injections may be given multiple times depending on the type of syphilis you have.
Once the treatment is finished, the clinic will carry out blood tests to ensure that the infection has gone.
There has been a rise of 25.4% in syphilis in the past year.
Syphilis can be divided into different stages:
- Primary Stage
This is an early stage of syphilis.
10 days – 3 months after being exposed, a small sore or ulcer may appear where the infection has been transmitted. This may be the penis, rectum, vagina, tongue or lips. These sores can be painful, but that is not always the case. You may also experience swollen lymph glands.
These sores will disappear within 2-6 weeks.
If untreated at this stage, the STI will move into the secondary stage.
- Secondary Stage
This stage will begin a few weeks after the sore has disappeared. This is still an early stage of syphilis.
Common symptoms at this stage include a non-itchy rash, tiredness, headaches, swollen lymph glands and eye problems (such as blurred vision and pain).
These symptoms and sores may appear and disappear over a period of months. While you may experience no symptoms or they may go, you can still spread the disease. No visible signs of syphilis, but still being infected is known as the latent stage. The latent stage can continue may years after you are infected.
If untreated, you risk the chance of the latent syphilis moving into the tertiary stage.
- Tertiary Stage
The tertiary stage of syphilis depends of what part of the body the infection has spread to. This can be the brain, nerves, eyes, heat, bones, skin or blood vessels.
Treatment, at this stage, will be given through injections. The number of injections needed will depend on the type of syphilis you have.
Once treatment is finished, the STI clinic will carry out a blood test to ensure that the infection is gone.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV attacks the immune system, which weakens its ability to fight infection.
It is estimated that 17,000 people in Ireland are living with HIV, but 10% of people do not know they have it.
HIV is contracted by unprotected sex with somebody who is HIV positive, or somebody who is not on HIV treatment. It can also be spread through sharing needles with somebody who is HIV positive. HIV is rarely spread through unprotected oral sex.
If you are on HIV treatment and levels of the virus (known as a viral load) is low to the point that it is undetected, HIV in untransmissible. More information on this can be found through the U=U campaign.
Testing for HIV can be done through a blood sample, or the free at home STI testing kits by SH24. All STI clinics offer free HIV testing. Testing is the only way to find out if you have HIV.
Many who have HIV do not show any symptoms, however, somebody may feel like they have flu-like symptoms.
Over time, the virus attacks the immune system, which means you may keep getting infections and illnesses.
HIV can effectively be treated through medication. If you test positive for HIV, you will be referred to a HIV clinic. HIV treatment stops HIV from reproducing in the body. If this treatment is taken correctly, it reduces the chance of passing HIV on to a sexual partner. There is currently no cure for HIV, and HIV treatment is taken for life.
There are 4 stages of HIV:
This is when HIV replicates in the body after you have been infected. This happens very quickly. Some people may develop symptoms at this stage, such as flu-like symptoms. This will happen within days of being infected.
The immune system reacts to the virus by developing antibodies. This is known as ‘sero-conversion’.
Infection does not cause any outward signs or symptoms. You may look and feel well, but the infection continues to weaken your immune system.
This stage may last anywhere between 8-10 years. Without being tested, you will not know that you are infected.
Over time, your immune system becomes damaged and weakened. This may cause mild symptoms, but these will worsen over time. These symptoms include fatigues, weight loss, mouth ulcers, thrush and severe diarrhoea.
These symptoms are causes by emergence if opportunistic infections, which take advantage of the weak immune system.
4. AIDS/ Progression from HIV to AIDS
There is no single test to see if HIV has progressed to AIDS.
Doctors may look at various symptoms that you are experiencing, the viral low you have or the presence of opportunistic infections to make the diagnosis.
This is an STI which infects the liver. This usually causes a mild illness which will go away on its own within 1-2 weeks without treatment. Hepatitis A occasionally causes more severe illnesses; however, most people make a full recovery.
Hepatitis A is spread by the faecal- oral route. This is through the ingestion of something that has been contaminated by the faeces of an infected person. It can also be spread through food that has been contaminated by infected food handlers or contaminated water. Hepatitis A can also be transmitted through rimming.
Most people who have hepatitis A do not experience symptoms, however, common symptoms include a fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, feeling sick or vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pains, dark urine and pale faeces.
This STI can be tested through a blood test to see how your body has reacted to infection.
There is no specific treatment for Hepatitis A, and it usually clears on its own accord.
Hepatitis B is an STI that infects the liver. This is a major cause for serious liver diseases, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. A full course of vaccine is useful for preventing the infection.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through unprotected anal, vaginal and oral sex, rimming, sharing needles, toothbrushes, razors or towels that are contaminated with blood of a person who is infected.
Many people who have hepatitis B do not experience symptoms. Some many experience symptoms when first infected that may last several weeks. These include flu-like symptoms, feeling sick or vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, yellowing of the eyes and skin, dark urine, pale faeces or itchy skin.
Hepatitis B can be tested through a blood test.
If you are diagnosed, you will be referred to see a doctor who specialises in hepatitis treatment and managing the infection. The stages of infection, treatment, and check-ups will be explained by your doctor or nurse.