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Do you know the symptoms of Queensland's most commonly diagnosed STIs?

Wednesday 2 May 2018

A person's two fingers with cartoon faces drawn on the fingertips, the tips crowned by a condom.
How much do you really know about the most commonly diagnosed STIs in the state?

How much do you know about Queensland's most commonly diagnosed STIs? Take our quiz to test your knowledge and then read on below to find out the facts.

Test your knowledge

Queensland's most commonly diagnosed STIs

Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis – Queensland’s most commonly diagnosed sexually transmissible infections or STIs. If you’re sexually active, you need to be aware that most STIs don’t have symptoms – you can’t tell who has an STI. How much do you know about our most common STIs?

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is not only the most common bacterial STI in Queensland – it’s the most common in the world. Nearly 80% of people who are diagnosed with chlamydia are aged 15-29 and most don’t show any symptoms of having the infection.

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can be spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. Chlamydia usually affects the urethra, cervix and throat, and in women can spread through the uterus and fallopian tubes.

People with chlamydia often don’t have any symptoms, which means regular screening for sexually active people is a must to catch the infection before it causes serious damage. Testing and treatment for chlamydia is easy and most infections can be treated with a single dose or short course of antibiotics.

When chlamydia does cause symptoms in women, they can include:

  • changes in vaginal discharge including a different smell or colour, or more discharge than usual
  • cramping in the lower abdomen
  • menstrual changes including having periods that are longer or heavier than normal, or more painful periods
  • pain when urinating
  • bleeding or spotting between periods
  • bleeding or spotting after having sex
  • pain during or after having sex
  • pain in the rectum and discharge from anus if spread through anal sex.

When chlamydia causes symptoms in men, they can include:

  • discharge from the penis
  • discomfort or irritation at the tip of the penis from the urethra
  • pain when urinating
  • swollen and sore testes
  • pain in the rectum and discharge from anus if spread through anal sex.

When not treated, chlamydia can cause serious health issues, particularly in women. It can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, which is a serious illness that causes fever and pain in the lower abdomen. PID can also cause scarring in the fallopian tubes, which can make it difficult for a woman to become pregnant and more likely for a woman to have an ectopic pregnancy if she does become pregnant.

Babies whose mothers have untreated chlamydia might be born with eye or lung infections.

A group of young men and women at a party, arms linked and smiling.

Gonorrhoea

The second most common STI is also pretty unpleasant. Gonorrhoea is caused by bacteria and is spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Gonorrhoea can infect the urethra, anus, throat, cervix, uterus and eyes, and can lead to serious complications.

Like chlamydia, in some people gonorrhoea doesn’t cause any symptoms at all. Others might experience symptoms that go away after a week or two, leading them to think that whatever caused them has been solved. Gonorrhoea infection, however, doesn’t self-clear, and needs to be treated with antibiotics by a medical professional.

When people do experience symptoms of gonorrhoea, they can be similar to those of other STIs like chlamydia.

In women, symptoms of gonorrhoea can include:

  • cramping and pain in the lower abdomen
  • changes in vaginal discharge including a different smell or colour, or more discharge than usual
  • pain and/or burning sensation when urinating
  • bleeding or spotting between periods
  • bleeding or spotting after having sex
  • pain during or after having sex
  • enlarged and painful glands near the vaginal opening.

In men, symptoms of gonorrhoea can include:

  • a yellow discharge from the penis
  • pain and/or burning sensation when urinating
  • swollen and sore testes.

In people who have contracted the infection through anal sex, symptoms can include:

  • pain in the rectum (the end of the large intestine that joins to the anus)
  • discharge or mucus from the anus, that might be bloody
  • feeling of fullness in the lower bowel.

In people who have contracted the infection through oral sex, symptoms can include:

  • a sore, red throat
  • pus on the tonsils.

In all cases of gonorrhoea, regardless of how the infection was transmitted, it is possible to not experience any symptoms at all. This is why it’s important for sexually active people to be tested regularly for the infection. Testing and treatment for gonorrhoea is easy and most infections can be treated with a short course of antibiotics. For throat, anal or cervical gonorrhoea infections a test of cure should be done two weeks after treatment is completed.

Gonorrhoea that has not been properly treated can lead to fertility issues in both men and women. In men, gonorrhoea can infect the testes, leading to infertility. In women, untreated gonorrhoea can lead to PID, which may cause chronic pain, infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Gonorrhoea infection also increases the risk of HIV transmission in men and women.

The number of drug resistant strains of gonorrhoea is also increasing across Australia and they can be difficult to treat. It is important to be tested regularly to prevent further spread of drug resistant strains. Testing for drug resistance requires a swab to be sent for culture of the bacteria at a special lab.

Syphilis

An increasing number of people are being diagnosed with infectious syphilis in Queensland.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that affects an infected person in stages. It is possible for a person to have syphilis and not experience symptoms.

In the primary stage of syphilis, the main symptom of infection is sores or ulcers, called chancres, that appear around the genitals, mouth or throat. These sores can be any shape or size, are often painless and don’t bleed. They might feel like a hard button on the skin, and can be inside the body as well as outside.

Chancres can appear between 10 and 90 days after a person has been infected with syphilis. They will usually heal and go away by themselves after a few weeks, however the person will still be infected with syphilis and can infect other people.

The secondary stage of syphilis, occurs between two and six months after infection. Symptoms of syphilis at this stage can include:

  • a flu-like illness
  • a rash on the abdomen, palms and soles of feet
  • swollen glands,
  • wart like lumps around the moist areas of the body (groin, armpits)
  • hair loss
  • headaches
  • tiredness
  • pains in the muscles, bones and joints.

These symptoms can go away by themselves, however the person will still be infected with syphilis and can infect other people.

The next stages of syphilis are called early latent syphilis and late latent syphilis. A person with early latent syphilis doesn’t have any symptoms but can infect other people. A person with late latent syphilisstill has syphilis, but is not infectious to others.

If syphilis is not treated, signs and symptoms will come and go for up to a year. The infection will remain in the body and over years can infect different parts of the body including the nerves, brain and large blood vessels near the heart. Left for a long time, untreated syphilis is potentially fatal.

Pregnant women with untreated syphilis can pass the infection on to their unborn baby, which can seriously affect the health and cause death of the child. Women with untreated syphilis may pass the infection on to an unborn baby for up to eight years after infection.

A row of unwrapped, colourful condoms.

How to prevent STIs

The only way to protect yourself and your partner from STIs when having sex is to practise safe sex by using condoms and water-based lube.

Condoms act as a physical barrier to prevent transmission of a range of STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis. They can also prevent unwanted pregnancies.

To prevent getting or spreading an STI it is recommended that you use a condom every time you have sex. This includes vaginal, anal and oral sex. You can also use a dental dam to protect yourself and your partner during oral sex, or make a dental dam using a condom. Use a new condom every time you have sex or change from having one type of sex to another.

You can read more about how, when and why you should use condoms here.

How to get checked for STIs

A sexual health check is an appointment with a doctor, nurse or other health worker that focuses on your sexual health and wellbeing.

You can book a sexual health check with your GP, at a sexual health clinic or through services like True Relationships & Reproductive Health (you might know True by their old name, Family Planning Queensland).

Sexual health is different for everyone, but the minimum recommendation for young sexually active people, people with multiple or different sexual partners and sexually active men who have sex with men is to have a sexual health check at least once a year.  If you regularly have new sexual partners, you should book in more frequently.

You don’t need to be experiencing any symptoms of an STI or feel unwell to get a sexual health check. Even if you think you’re fine, you should still have a regular sexual health check every year if you are sexually active. Make a sexual health check a normal part of your routine, just like visiting the dentist or booking your car for a service.

If you have a new potential sexual partner, you might discuss the possibility of each of you having a sexual health check before you have sex. You and your partner should think about having a sexual health check before you decide to have sex without condoms.

Free chlamydia and gonorrhoea test

Queensland residents who are older than 16 can now order a free chlamydia and gonorrhoea urine test online, through the 13 HEALTH webtest program.

The 13 HEALTH webtest program allows you two options – you can order a home mailing kit to be sent to you, which you use by peeing on the special sponge provided, and then mailing the sample tube back for analysis.

Alternatively, you can download a pathology request form (or have it posted to you) and take it with you when you go to give your pee sample for analysis at any QML Pathology, Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology (SNP), Mater Pathology or public hospital pathology (Pathology Queensland) collection centre. At the pathology centre you will be asked to pee in a jar for the test to be performed.  This service is free and confidential and will be followed up by the team at 13 HEALTH.

This test doesn’t replace a sexual health check, but is a good way to test for two really common STIs when you can’t get to a health service.

More information about sexual health

Let’s talk about sex, baby! Your ultimate guide to sexual health

Sexual health – Queensland Government

Condom 101: understanding how, when and why to use condoms

Oral sex and STIs – what you need to know

In Real Life

Frank – Talk. Test. Enjoy

Young Deadly Free

All Good

Last updated: 29 May 2018