Although many people consider STIs an embarrassing topic, they’re a lot more common than most people realize. The chance of receiving a sexually transmitted infection is approximately one in three. Fear, stigma, and shame are often connected to the diagnosis, leaving many unable or unwilling to talk about it. With this fear and shame comes a lack of testing, delayed diagnosis, and prolonged exposure to infection.
Understanding the stigma attached to STIs
Negative attitudes and beliefs attached to people who have an STI can influence the mental health and wellbeing of an individual. Additionally, a lack of information can make symptoms go unnoticed for months at a time. Society has influenced our perception of the “types of people” who get STIs, around their sexuality and their overall cleanliness. The reality holds that hygiene and promiscuity have little to no influence on STI status.
Known as the infection caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, this infection is the most commonly reported bacterial STI in Canada. Rates have continued to increase over time, with many asymptomatic men and women spreading the disease without realizing it. There is an absence of screening (as many won’t request STI testing without symptoms). This infection is readily cured with antibiotics and abstaining until cultures return clear.
The second most commonly reported STI in Canada, Gonorrhea, is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. This STI is commonly called Chlamydia’s big brother, as the bacterial infection can develop rapidly. New cases have remained relatively stable, although they began climbing in 2012. This infection is cleared with strong antibiotics and abstinence during treatment. Untreated infections can lead to severe consequences for both genders.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is caused by a virus that attacks and weakens the immune system. Currently, 62,050 Canadians living with HIV in Canada, giving it a 167 per 100,000. Although a slight increase in infection rates was noted in 2018, it is less common than other bacterial STIs among sexually active adults. As the availability of PrEP in Canada continues to increase, transmission rates should decline in the years to come.
The bacteria Treponema pallidum has been around since 1924, with notable stages of the disease. These are broken down into primary, secondary, ad early latent stages. The number of cases within Canada has continued to climb over the years, with nearly 6,300 cases reported in 2018. It has seen an increase of more than 259.5% over the last decade. Antibiotics will often treat this STI, although other interventions may be required depending on the stage of the diagnosis.
It is estimated that 75% of all adults will contract a strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV) within their lifetime, with many acting as asymptomatic carriers. This STI can be chronic (lifelong) in nature and currently has no cure. 90% of all individuals who contract HPV will clear the virus within two years. Certain strains of the STI can cause oral cancer, cervical cancer, and genital warts. There is a vaccine currently available to all interested individuals under the age of 45. The best time to get the vaccine is before sexual activity. There is no testing currently available for men (aside from visual inspection of lesions). Women can have pap smears to test for atypical cells on the cervix.
This sexually transmitted infection is spread through skin-to-skin contact. It is a highly contagious virus that causes small, smooth, pearly lumps to form on the genital area after infection. Typically, the virus will resolve itself, although treatment of the lesions can lessen the duration of symptoms. Molluscum contagiosum can spread rapidly due to the waxy core, which causes outbreaks on contact. It’s also spreadable in water and on objects, making it difficult to get rid of once infected. There is minimal data on this STI due to the nature of the disease and the ability to spread to pox virus on contact.