Making love is a beautiful thing, but what if it’s not just our partners we are connecting with? Across all walks of life in South Africa, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise. Having a sexual interaction with someone whose STD status is unknown to you is quite a gamble, especially for women.
“STDs or STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are not to be taken lightly,” says Dr Steven Gunn, a GP and an integrative medicine physician at Alt Med Care International Clinic in Pretoria. “Many of us know common symptoms such as warts, blisters, painful sex and discharge, but what if you have no symptoms? Half of the people infected with STDs are oblivious to the fact. Even though a short dose of antibiotics can deal with even the strongest of culprits, if left untreated these infections can create severe health conditions.”
Gonnorrhea accounts for two-thirds of STDs in South Africa. It is a serious bacterial infection that is transmitted by oral, anal or genital sex. The symptoms are almost identical to those of chlamydia, but it can also be symptomless. If the infection spreads, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Other symptoms include joint pain and conjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the eyelids and eye) in both adults and infected babies. Antibiotics are used to treat gonorrhea. Protection is key and condoms do a lot to prevent gonorrhea infection.
Chlamydia is a common bacterial STD. It has been dubbed the “silent infection”, as 70% of infected women are symptomless. EVEn though it spreads through intercourse, anal and oral sex, using condoms does give needed protection. If left unrecognized and untreated, chlamydia can cause major damage to a woman’s reproductive organs through PID. The disease can also be passed on to an infant during childbirth.
- Abnormal vaginal discharge – more yellow or milky-white;
- Constant urge to urinate or burning during urination;
- Bleeding between periods or during sex;
- Abdominal pain, lower-back pain or a heavy feeling around the hips; and
- Vaginal pain, bleeding or cysts.
Pelvic inflammatory disease can occur when an infection reaches the cervix. The bacteria can spread to the fallopian tubes and ovaries. “It is the most serious thing that can happen,” informs Dr Elna Rudolph, MD and sexologist at My Sexual Health, and Femagene sexual health expert. “It forms abscesses that can burst, and you often need hospitalization.”
The vagina has an intricate balance of bacterial biofilm, much like the lining of the gut. The biofilm is the vagina’s immune system; it is key for protection against harmful microbes. Changing sex partners, douching, antibiotics, refined foods or oral contraceptives can easily disrupt the delicate bacterial biofilm. Any disruption can lead to bacterial or fungal infections.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection. Women with trichomoniasis may experience burning, itchiness and have milky-white or grey vaginal discharge with an unpleasant, often fish-like odor. Yet there are times when trichomoniasis is symptomless. A single dose of the correct antibiotics should do the trick.
Want to know more? Click here to discover everything you need to know about pelvic health.
Candida albicans is a bacterium which has an important role in your gut. However, if the bacterial balance is destabilized, candida can grow into a yeast infection. The vaginal infection is known as thrush, and the symptom is obvious: it’s itchy! You can get an anti-fungal suppository medication for thrush from your local pharmacy, “but if you have to use it more than five times a year, you will probably develop resistant candida,” warns Rudolph.
“Natural or alternative remedies include a low-sugar and -yeast diet, curcumin extract, olive leaf extract and caprylic acid,” says Gunn.
“Wash your genitals like you wash under your arms, never inside. Avoid bubble baths. If you have a little bit of discomfort, you can use something like a soothing gel from Femogene. But never, ever, under any circumstances, douche!” exclaims Rudolph. Douching with common shelf-bought products has been found to increase vaginal irritation and bacterial imbalance.
HPV (Human papilloma virus)
HPV is a virus that can take up residence on your cervix. It doesn’t usually cause symptoms at first, but certain strains can cause genital warts and other strains have bene linked to 80% of cervical cancer cases. An HPV vaccination is available in South Africa, but there is no medication to treat HPV. However, if you have pre-cancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix, cryotherapy can be used to eradicate them. Interesting findings are now appearing on the natural medicine front. Reishi mushrooms and curcumin has been shown to lead to positive results.
This is a highly contagious virus. Falling into the simplex family, genital herpes is simplex-2 (HSV-2) and cold sores (mouth) simplex-1 (HSV-1). Both viruses can be transmitted via oral sex and both can activate either on the mouth or genitals.
“The virus resides in the nerves of the skin, genitals and anus, causing painful blister-like lesions,” says Gunn. “Conventional treatment consists of selective antiviral agents, which suppress the herpes virus, but cannot completely kill it. These drugs reduce the frequency and severity of the infection only.”
Syphilis is one of the more serious bacterial STDs; if left untreated, it can be fatal. Once it takes hold, syphilis can eat away at tissue anywhere in the body, but can be treated easily with antibiotics. The first sign of this infection is a small, painless sore at the site of the infection, which appears within 10 days to three weeks of exposure. It usually occurs on the genital or mouth, but can sometimes be found on other parts of the skin. If syphilis is passed from mother to unborn child, it can have devastating consequences.
Click here to find out about the results of WHO revising STD treatment guidelines.