How do I know if I have a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

    It is important to realize that you can have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) without knowing it. If you are sexually active, using condoms will reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of infection.

    Itching, burning, or discharge from the penis, anus (ass hole) or vagina are the most common symptoms of STIs.

    You can get some STIs, such as syphilis, in your throat when you perform oral sex on someone without using a latex barrier (such as a condom). If you have an STI in your throat, you may or may not have any symptoms.

    Rashes or bumps anywhere on the body, that may or may not itch or be painful, can also be symptoms of an STI.

    Because STIs can have few symptoms, sexually active people should get an STI check-up every three to six months, as this is the only sure way to know if you have an STI. In Toronto, you can contact ACT for information on a clinic where you can talk openly about all your sexual practices. A blood test alone will not detect all STIs; discuss your sexual practices with the nurse or doctor to ensure that you receive a thorough check-up.

    By getting regularly tested for STIs, you will know if you have an infection, and you can then get the STI treated as soon as possible. This is important, as having an STI can double or even triple your chances of then becoming infected with HIV. If you are already HIV-positive, an STI increases your ability to transmit HIV, because it increases your viral load. STIs can increase the amount of HIV (viral load) in the semen and vaginal fluids of a person living with HIV, even while HIV remains undetectable in your blood. (Viral load testing is usually measured in blood). STIs can also (theoretically) increase your chances of “superinfection” with HIV (being infected with a different strain of the same virus you already have).

    Having both HIV and another STI can make it more difficult to treat your STI, it can drive up your viral load (a measure of the amount of HIV virus in your blood), it can speed up the progression of the STI, and it can increase the chances of getting serious complications such as cancer or lesions. Many STIs are curable, but they can have serious temporary or permanent health consequences for people living with HIV if they remain undiagnosed and untreated.

    Revised October 2009