“An STI check should not be feared nor frowned upon”

Despite the knowledge that sex between two consenting adults is a normal, healthy activity, several myths remain about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and sadly a taboo around the whole subject that discourages many individuals from getting tested. It is also often assumed that STIs, or STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) only occur in young people. Yet figures from Public Health England demonstrate a rise in the common STIs for over 65s, possibly due to a combination of a healthier population living longer, no fears about the risk of pregnancy, as well as medications such as Viagra being readily available.

An STI/STD is any form of infection transmitted by oral, vaginal or anal intercourse. The most prevalent in the UK include genital warts, chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis, as well as Hepatitis B and C, and HIV. Pubic lice may be transferred by close bodily contact.

Some people develop very obvious symptoms once infected with an STI, such as discharge from the penis or vagina, irregular vaginal bleeding, or a rash, lump or bump in the genital areas. However, many remain completely well. Fifty percent of women and ten percent of men with gonorrhoea report no complaints at all.

There are many reasons for getting tested promptly, rather than putting it off. The first is peace of mind for anyone who has ever been sexually active. Secondly, many STIs are readily curable with a course of antibiotics, or even a one-off dose. However, if left unaddressed, an STD will cause long term complications. For chlamydia this may be infertility. Hepatitis B and C can result in liver failure. A person carrying HIV, but unaware of their status, may remain well for several years, yet once they develop an AIDS defining illness, deterioration and progression to death is rapid. Although HIV is not curable presently, drugs treatment exists that can reduce the presence of HIV to a level where it is undetectable in a blood sample.

So if you are worried about the possibility of an STI or would like the reassurance of a negative result you can either have a consultation with your GP, or alternatively attend a local Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) clinic. The latter may be more appropriate, being specifically designed to deal with all aspects of sexual health. Tests involve swabs from the genitals and sometimes throat, as well as blood samples. In addition, GUM clinics provide facilities for contact tracing to alert partners who need to attend for testing, as well as services for contraception and counselling.

The easiest way to reduce your chance of an STI is to practise safe sex by using condoms during all forms of intercourse. Indeed most sexual health clinics provide these free of charge. An STI check should not be feared nor frowned upon, but seen as an important part of maintaining your health, in the same way that you would attend for a healthy heart screen or an asthma review.

Health MOTs in York

CITY of York Council’s YorWellbeing Service offers free NHS health checks for residents. The service helps people to:

• learn about their risk of developing common but preventable health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease

• understand how lifestyle can influence their risk

• be supported to live a healthier lifestyle.

To contact the YorWellbeing service call 01904 553377 or email Yorwellbeing@york.gov.uk