What is STI?
An STI is an infection spread predominantly by sexual contact, including kissing, vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Some STIs can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. An infection is when a bacteria, virus, or parasite enters and grows in or on your body. STIs are also called sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs.
- Bacterial: are caused by bacteria, tiny single-celled microorganisms. Bacteria are highly resistant and can survive in various environments. Our body is home to many microorganisms, and not all of them are dangerous.
- Viral: are caused by viruses that dwell inside a person. Viral infections spread by modifying human cells and producing more viral cells. Viral STDs usually have no symptoms. If they do, the symptoms like sores or blisters for genital herpes come and go making it easy to get infected and transmit unknowingly.
- Parasitic: are caused by parasites (tiny bugs that need a host to live in), whereby some can severely destroy the host’s health with toxins leading to parasitic infection. They are transmitted during sexual intercourse or non-sexual acts like birth or breastfeeding from mother to child and share everyday objects such as towels, bedsheets, or clothes.
- Fungal: are often triggered by taking antibiotics and birth control pills, perfumed vaginal washing products, or lack of airflow while wearing tight underwear.
For more information on STIs and their types, please visit: https://www.letenaethiopia.com/fact-sheet/sexual-health-fact-sheet/sexually-transmitted-infections/.
There is also an infection caused by an untreated STI called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID is an infection of the female reproductive organs that usually occurs when an untreated STI spreads from the vagina to the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries.
Symptoms include lower abdomen & pelvis pain, smelly & heavy vaginal discharge & bleeding, pain during sex & urination, and fever. It can cause complications like chronic pelvic pain, Tubo-ovarian abscess, and pregnancy-related complications like ectopic pregnancy & infertility.
PID is the leading cause of infertility in women. About 1 in 8 women with a history of PID will have trouble getting pregnant. If diagnosed early, it can be treated. However, treatment won’t undo any damage that has already happened to the reproductive system. Latex condoms may reduce the risk of PID by preventing STDs. Since STDs play a significant role in PID, screening women at risk for infection and treating infected women and their sex partners can help minimize the risk of PID.
It is understandable that people diagnosed with chronic health conditions are under a lot of stress and react emotionally. The damage comes when they obsess over their illness, and instead of focusing on the treatment and next step, they focus on all the negatives that’ll make them sicker and reduce their body’s ability to fight illnesses.
With HIV, the virus causes significant inflammation in the body, especially in the brain and its lining. It compromises your body’s ability to fight the virus due to irritation and swelling of the brain tissues or blood vessels. When the body’s immune system is reduced, it increases the chances of getting more infections that could also affect the brain and nervous system. A person can change their behavior and normal functioning with all these infections.
In today’s society, especially one like Ethiopia, STIs are a taboo topic that causes discrimination and unnecessary emotional stress. Stigmas like negative attitudes & behaviors, often caused by a lack of awareness, can increase the distress of an infected person. STIs can cause significant psychological and mental issues like high rates of depression, mood swings, stress, anxiety, and cognitive disorders. These conditions can lead to traumatic mental and psychological effects.
Because some people are ashamed, they don’t seek testing and treatment, exposing themselves to more diseases and spreading them to others. There are many reasons for STI stigma and fear, such as:
- Lack of education and misinformation
- Shame and fear of testing positive
- Rejection from a romantic partner
How do we remove these barriers?
We must begin by educating the public and breaking the false beliefs surrounding STIs. Often, when we don’t understand what we’re dealing with, we resort to negative measures. Next, we must understand how our mental health is essential for physical recovery. This includes educational elements that increase knowledge, skills, & awareness and action-oriented elements focusing on behavior change. It is vital to be open and honest about all symptoms—mental & physical—throughout your treatment so you have a sense of control over your health.