In the March Issue of Student Life, I wrote about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and went into detail about chlamydia and gonorrhoea – remember if you’re under 25 you can order a free test for these at www.youngandfree.org.uk
This month we’ll be taking a look at three other infections.
Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). They are small fleshy growths which can appear around the genital area. You may just have one wart or a cluster. Warts can itch, become inflamed or bleed. If they aren’t treated they may eventually go away, or they may stay the same size or grow larger. Warts can appear weeks, months or years after infection with HPV. You may only have one outbreak, although many people find they have further episodes. Two strains of HPV are linked to around 70% of cases of cervical cancer in the UK – types 16 and 18. However, the strains of HPV that cause genital warts (types 6 and 11) do not cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, anus or penis.
Currently all girls in the UK who are aged between 12-13 (Year 8) are offered vaccination against HPV which protects against the two strains which cause the majority of cases of genital warts, as well as the two strains of HPV which cause the majority of cases of cervical cancer. The same vaccine is not yet offered to boys, although it is offered to men who have sex with men (MSM) aged up to 45 via sexual health clinics.
HPV can be passed on through genital contact, sharing sex toys and very rarely through oral sex. Again, using the male condom or a Femidom cuts the risk – but only if the condom covers the skin where the wart virus is.
Genital warts must be treated by a doctor, either with a cream or by being frozen off. Laser treatment and surgery can be used in hard-to-treat cases. You would be advised not to have sex until treatment has finished.
You can catch genital herpes through vaginal, anal or oral sex. The herpes virus stays in your body for life but antiviral tablets can help prevent outbreaks, manage symptoms during an outbreak and make them heal more quickly if a recurrence appears. Some people find that pain-killing creams and bathing in salt water may help with treating the blisters which occur.
Blisters are the main symptom of herpes. Before they appear, your skin may itch, tingle or feel numb. They can be painful, especially when going to the toilet. Blisters hold an infectious clear liquid before they burst, scab over and heal. Infection is more likely when blisters are on the skin but it sometimes happens when no blisters are present, especially before or straight after an outbreak. If you kiss or have oral sex when you have cold sores on your mouth, you risk giving your partner herpes on their lips or genitals. Yes, cold sores are a form of herpes! You may also feel tired, with flu-like aches and swollen glands.
Pubic lice are often called ‘crabs’ and are very common. They usually cause itching, and you might be able to see the lice and their eggs. They can live on all body hair, including pubic hair, facial hair and even eyebrows or eyelashes (although not the hair on your head). Unfortunately shaving off pubic hair will not get rid of the lice. Pubic lice are usually passed on by body contact during sex. Lice can also spread on towels, clothes, and bedding (although this isn’t common).
If you get them, you can stop them from spreading to others by washing bedding, towels and clothes on a hot wash (above 50° C) which will kill the lice and their eggs, as well as ensuring anyone who you have had close contact with is treated (including sexual partners from the last three months and everyone in your household). You can treat yourself at home with an insecticide cream, lotion or shampoo bought from the chemist without a prescription. It’s important that you avoid sex or close contact until you and your partner have completed your treatment.
Remember to have a regular sexual health check, regardless of whether or not you have any symptoms, as some infections rarely show any. For more information visit