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Unseen Risks: 5 Sexually Transmitted Infections You Could Have Without Symptoms

Updated: 2 days ago

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Every day more than one million people worldwide contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs), most of which are asymptomatic, according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates. STIs fuel stigmatization, infertility, cancers and lead to pregnancy complications. In addition, they can increase the risk of contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

But despite the fact that it is a major public health problem, people continue to have sex without condoms. A University of California resource points out that 69% of adolescents and young people have had unprotected sex and 41% are willing to do so again, which is evidence that risky behavior is a reality and a determining factor in the spread of infections.

The fact that many bacterial STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia can go without symptoms prevents their carriers from knowing they are infected. This is why it is important to use condoms to reduce the possibility of contagion and to remember that these infections are not only acquired through vaginal penetration but also through oral sex, anal sex and some even through skin-to-skin contact.

These are the asymptomatic sexually transmitted infections

Chlamydia: symptoms include discharge from the vagina or penis, painful urination, vaginal bleeding between periods or after intercourse, pelvic pain in women and testicular pain in men. This may occur 1 to 3 weeks after unprotected sexual contact, but may take longer. Approximately 50% of infected men and 70% of infected women have no symptoms. If chlamydia is not treated, it can lead to serious health problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, scarring of the fallopian tubes and infertility.

Genital herpes: this virus has no cure and its main symptom is lesions in the genital area that many may mistake for infected bumps, pimples or pores. Since not all carriers ever have symptoms and condoms do not guarantee coverage in areas where the virus may be active, 1 in 8 people have herpes and most do not know it. The virus can be detected through a blood test.

Gonorrhea: This infection causes a burning sensation when urinating and a yellowish-white discharge from the penis. In women it can cause vaginal discharge and possibly burning with urination, but 10-15% of men and about 80% of women may have no symptoms. Untreated gonorrhea can lead to major complications according to the Mayo Clinic, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, which causes scarring of the fallopian tubes, an increased risk of pregnancy complications and infertility.

In men, it can also cause infertility because it causes epididymitis, a type of inflammation in the pathways that transport and store sperm. This untreated condition also leads to infertility.

Additionally, the bacteria that cause gonorrhea can spread through the bloodstream and infect other parts of the body, including the joints. Gonorrhea increases susceptibility to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, and infants who contract gonorrhea during childbirth may develop blindness, scalp sores, and infections.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women contract the virus at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control. The virus can even be spread by skin-to-skin contact in areas that condoms cannot cover during sex.

In 9 out of 10 cases, HPV goes away on its own within two years. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Between 70 and 90% of cases are asymptomatic. This is why it is important to get vaccinated and have Pap smears because there are no symptoms when the transition from precancer to cancer begins.

Hepatitis B: affects the liver and is usually asymptomatic. Those who do have symptoms may have abdominal pain, dark urine, fever, joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, weakness and fatigue, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice). It is transmitted through blood, semen, or other fluids.

Complications include cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure, kidney disease or inflammation of the blood vessels.

Hepatitis C: This is a liver infection caused by a virus that can be acquired through contact with the blood of an infected person and also during sexual encounters through contact with body fluids, such as saliva or semen. Hepatitis C can be mild and last a few weeks (acute) or severe and long-lasting (chronic).

If you have chronic hepatitis C, you most likely will not have symptoms until complications develop, which could be decades after you are infected. Among the most serious complications of hepatitis C are liver damage, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer and even death.

Trichomoniasis: 7 out of 10 people with this infection do not know they have it. Symptoms can come and go, and include green, yellow, gray, frothy or foul-smelling vaginal discharge; blood in the vaginal discharge; itching and irritation in and around the vagina; swelling in the genital area; and pain during sex.

As you can see, sexually transmitted infections can be quite silent and their symptoms difficult to distinguish. If in doubt, see a health professional and remember to reduce the likelihood of infection by using condoms.

Contact us! We are here to accompany you in your sexual and reproductive health decisions.

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