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STI - Types, Testing and Prevention

With the incidence of sexually transmitted infections on the rise, testing is more important than ever for those who may be at risk. “Anyone who is sexually active in any capacity, however that looks, is potentially at risk,” says Dr. Alexis McCollum, one of the OB/GYNs at Washington Regional’s HerHealth Clinic. Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are infections that are spread by any type of sexual contact.

While many STIs can be cured with timely treatment, most have no or only mild early symptoms. So, McCollum recommends annual STI testing for sexually active females under age 26 and for anyone who has multiple sexual partners. “And really, anyone who wants to be tested simply for peace of mind can be tested regularly,” she says.

Some of the most common sexually transmitted infections are:

Chlamydia – For women, the most common site for a chlamydia infection is the cervix, but infections can occur in the mouth, reproductive organs, urethra and rectum.

Gonorrhea – This often occurs along with chlamydia and, like chlamydia, is caused by a type of bacteria.

Trichomoniasis – This condition is caused by a microscopic parasite that is passed between sexual partners. All partners must be treated to prevent reinfection.

Syphilis – Left untreated, syphilis can cause heart problems, neurological problems and tumors leading to brain damage, blindness, paralysis and even death. For pregnant women, syphilis in can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or the baby's death shortly after birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Syphilis is unfortunately on the rise in Arkansas, so we have been seeing many more cases of that over the past few years,” McCollum says.

The good news is that it is possible to reduce the risk of contracting an STI. “Prevention is number one in importance,” McCollum explains. “Prevention is primarily going to be through barrier protection, namely condoms, used every time. The consistent usage of barrier protection is what’s going to provide the highest level of protection against STIs.”

For sexually active people who are not in mutually monogamous relationships, she recommends condoms, which are available in male and female versions. A male condom covers the penis; a female condom is a thin pouch that lines the vagina. Both types can be bought in drugstores without a prescription. Condoms that are made of latex are the most effective in reducing the risk of getting an STI.