Risky Valentine’s treats

And aren’t there quite a few that spread at this time – each creating misery and lots of love-breaking, as they or their complications are discovered by the partner(s) to the ‘love-union’, for the first, second, third, or more times.

It is the normal expectation for most of us, as medical professionals, to see a strong increase in the number of patients that complain of symptoms that are attributed to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).

I love hearing wonderful love stories, cupid stories and the happy endings that my patients often share with me, from time to time, and would love to hear the same from you. February 8-15 is national safer sex week, and it is my hope that I can share enough information with you, so you can protect yourself from ever contracting any of these dreaded lovemaking bugs or their complications – which, for some women, may eventually develop into cervical cancer as a result of contracting one special bug.

The following tips, if followed, should get you properly shielded:

* Get familiar with the bugs, their symptoms and potential complications.

* Prevention is your best shield.

* Vaccination is available to prevent at least one that is often unpreventable (human papillomavirus or HPV).

* Treatment resistance is on the rise and treatment options are few – prevention is your best and soon your only option.


The problem with STIs is that many people – particularly women – have no symptoms, and STIs, when left untreated, can cause cancers, infertility, many forms of painful suffering, and premature death. It is important to be regularly checked for STIs if you are sexually active or think you have been exposed to a disease. Consult with your doctor early if you experience any of the following:


* Most times, you will have no symptoms, your partner reporting any of the listed early symptoms for women may be your only clue.

* A need to pee often

* Burning, pain or ‘blood-tinged colour’ when you pee

* Drip or discharge (white, watery, yellowish, or otherwise) from the penis

* Swellings, sores, bumps, warts, or blisters near to, in or on the genital area, anus, mouth, or throat

* Pain to the lower abdomen, rectum or scrotum

* Odour from the genital area or mouth

* Itching and other abnormal sensation in or around the genital


* Most times, you will have no symptoms, your partner reporting any of the listed early symptoms for men may be your only clue.

* Itching and burning in and around the vagina

* Other abnormal sensation in or around the genital

* Unusual discharge (white, watery, yellowish, or otherwise) from the vagina

* Need to pee often

* Burning, cramping and pain when you pee and/or with bowel movement

* Bleeding when not having period or abnormally heavy period

* Change in the colour, amount, or smell of the discharge from your vagina

* Pain inside your vagina when you have sex, or bleeding after sex

* Swellings, sores, bumps, warts, or blisters near to, in or on the genital area, anus, mouth, or throat

* Pain to the lower abdomen, rectum or scrotum

* Fishy or other unusual odour from the genital area or mouth

* Abdominal or pelvic pain with or without flu-like symptoms, such as achy joints, chills, and fever


There are many different types of sexually transmitted infections, most of which can be broken down into four basic groups. Below are common examples of the ones you may be exposed to from each group:

1. Bacterial – often treated with antibiotics

* Chlamydia

* Gonorrhoea

* Syphilis

* Chancroid

* Other bacterial causes for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

* Other bacterial causes-vaginitis, cystitis and bacterial vaginosis

2. Viral – most can be treated but not completely cured. Antivirals and immune stimulators offer some amount of disease suppression. Successful vaccination available for HPV only.

* Herpes: Type 1 and 2 – hay/night fever and genital herpes

* Human Papillomavirus (HPV): leads to genital warts and cervical and penile cancer

* Hepatitis B & C Virus (HCV): leads to jaundice, liver disease and cancer

* Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): related to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

3. Fungus – treated with antifungals

* Candida or yeast

4. Parasitic – treated with anti-parasitic treatment

* Trichomonas and related species

* Scabies and other mites

Protecting yourself

If you can practise most of these things, the thicker and more impermeable will be your shield of protection from contracting any of the circulating lovemaking bugs, during and after this period.

* Not having sex is the best and safest way to protect yourself from STIs.

* Next in the safety line is to have and maintain a monogamous sexual relationship, having sex with only one uninfected partner who only has sex with you – always test twice, for while there are many tests available you must be aware that each disease has a window period for which most currently available tests will give a negative result, even though they are present in the body.

* Otherwise, here are other things you can do to protect yourself and others :

– Use a condom every time. Both men and women should carry condoms. There are many different types these days – have fun exploring your many options. In addition to condoms, for effective birth control, remember to always add another level of protection, such as oral pills or other contraceptive method. This is a vital part of a good family planning system.

– Talk to your partner about their past exposure, past sex partners and about needle drug use. Don’t have sex with someone who you think may have an STI.

– Before you have sex, look closely at your partner for any signs of an STI: a rash, a sore, redness, or discharge. If you see anything you are worried about, don’t have sex!

– Get checked for an STI every time you have a health exam. If you have more than one sex partner, get examined for an STI any time you think you might be at risk, even if you don’t have symptoms.

– Know the signs and symptoms of an STI. If you notice a symptom that worries you, get checked out.

– If you have an STI, your partner(s) must get treated when you do. If you have an STI, don’t have sex until your doctor says you’re cured.


Some STIs, like herpes and HPV, even with your best practices, can still be caught by less intimate contact. Otherwise, whether it is that the condom breaks or for any other reason you may think you have contracted an STI, here are the steps to follow:

1. Get checked out. Never just hope the STI will go away. It won’t.

2. Consult with a doctor immediately and do exactly what your doctor tells you. Be sure to use all of your medicine.

3. You also must tell your sexual partner(s). If they aren’t treated, they can spread the STI. They might even give it to you again.


The plea to protect yourself often falls on deaf ears, despite the learnt risk of giving in to our primal urges. Here is the last bit of information that I will leave with you. The rate of multi-drug resistance to the treatment options that we have for our common STIs is on a rapid rise with over 15 per cent in some cases like gonorrhoea/chlamydia. New effective treatment options have not grown much in the past decade, leaving you in a reality that we will soon have no effective treatment for bacterial, fungal and parasitic causes – most of which are now treatable.

The next time your or someone you know turn up for treatment at the doctor for what is thought to be an STI, it will be the same message given as is told for the viral cause: You may have to suffer with the symptoms and the inevitable complications for the rest of your life. The time is now – become more socially responsible in your behaviour. Let us launch an all-out attack and campaign against the spread of these diseases, by simply protecting ourselves from getting them in the first place.


1. Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. It can be treated with antiviral medication at the time of outbreaks, and daily antiviral medication to prevent frequent outbreaks. There is currently no vaccine or cure for herpes.

2. Human papillomavirus, also known as the “genital wart virus”, can be treated with lotions and liquid nitrogen to freeze the warts. Currently, there is no cure for HPV. Left untreated, the more virulent strains eventually lead to the development of cervical and penile cancer.

It is thought that perhaps 80-90 per cent of the general population carries the virus in their skin, even if they don’t have symptoms. Condoms cannot prevent the spread of the virus to sex partners. There is, however, a silver lining behind this dark cloud for HPV.

* The development and widespread availability of vaccines may have made it possible, just like was done in the case of polio, to eradicate this ‘lovemaking bug’.

3. Hepatitis B is caused by the Hepatitis B virus. Although this infection is difficult to treat, certain oral medication or injections are generally used. People who have chronic Hepatitis B may need prolonged or even lifelong treatment with injectable medications, which are sometime quite toxic. Hepatitis B can also lead to liver failure and increases the risk for liver cancer. There is an effective vaccine for Hepatitis B, but no cure.

4. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can be treated and the progression slowed by using a combination of antiviral medication – usually a minimum of three to four medication. There is currently no vaccine or cure for HIV.


I can choose not to have sex. I can choose only to have safer sex and always use a condom, correctly. I can choose to say no to alcohol and other drugs. I will talk to my partner about sex and HIV. Remember, it’s not who that puts you at risk, it’s what you do that does.


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