The Clinic for Women's Health

Sexually Shared Infections

There has been an alarming increase in Sexually Shared Infections, including HIV, over the past ten years. Is the safesex message failing?

Finding a descriptive phrase or term for this group of infections, which have a common mode of transmission, has never been easy and the name used tends to reflect what is politically correct at the time. We have elected to use an increasingly popular term, which acknowledges the special circumstances in which most infections occur. The causative organisms can be bacterial, viral, fungal or virus-like organisms.

Although often transmitted by genital contact, the effect can be far beyond this. There is still a strong stigma attached to SSI which betrays their potential serious consequences, ranging from an itch to death.

Not everyone who gets infected has symptoms and often a condition like infertility may be the first sign of a longstanding infection. Screening may be the only way to diagnose an infection early. This will include talking a history, examination, swabs, urine test and blood tests. Successful treatment depends on the type of infection, immune response, and avoidance of recurrent exposure.

There is now a vaccine, Gardasil, which will reduce the risk of genital warts infection by 90% and that of cervical cancer, an SSI, by 70%.

Condoms reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of transmission, which can sometimes also occur via the oral and anal routes or from sharing sex toys or towels.

The Women's Clinic offers a comprehensive counselling and screening service including HIV testing.

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