LEARN MORE: TRICHOMONIASIS

Trichomoniasis, or trich (pronounced “trick”), is a common STI that usually has very few symptoms. It is caused by an infection of microscopic parasites called Trichomonas vaginalis. For women, these parasites may infect the vagina, urethra, bladder or cervix. In men, the infection is usually in the urethra, or under the foreskin of uncircumcised men.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Many people, particularly men, will not have symptoms of a trich infection. If symptoms do appear, they usually appear within one week of infection, though they can take up to six months. For some people, symptoms may go away and then return later. About half of women will have symptoms of a trich infection. In men, trichomoniasis is rare and most men will not have symptoms.

In women:

  • Discharge from the vagina
  • Vaginal odour
  • Pain during intercourse or urination
  • Irritation or itchiness of the vagina

In men: 

  • Mild discharge
  • Irritation or redness at the top of the penis
  • Burning during urination
  • Men may often become unknowing carriers of trich infections. Treatment is required to ensure that a trich infection is completely gone

 

HOW IS TRICHOMONIASIS SPREAD?

Trichomoniasis is spread through sexual contact with an infected person.

HOW IS TRICHOMONIASIS DIAGNOSED?

Testing may be done by physical examination or lab testing to detect the parasite.

In some cases, the tiny sores caused by trichomoniasis may be detected during a routine pap test for women; however, pap smears do not specifically test for sexually transmitted infections, and you should never rely on a pap smear to detect trichomoniasis or any other sexually transmitted infections.

HOW CAN TRICHOMONIASIS BE PREVENTED?

  • Knowing your sexual partner’s history;
  • Having protected sex – Condoms and dental dams offer good protection but they must be used properly. Condoms should be used for vaginal, anal and oral sex. A dental dam is a thin square of latex that acts as a barrier between the vagina or the anus and the mouth during oral sex. Dental dams can be bought in some stores, or you can make your own using a condom or a latex glove; and,
  • Having regular STI check-ups, which are helpful to identify those that have no symptoms.

HOW IS TRICHOMONIASIS TREATED?

Typically, trichomoniasis can be treated with a single oral dose of an antibiotic called Metronidazole. However, trichomonas can be reacquired easily so it is important that you and your partner(s) be treated together. Trichomoniasis may not show symptoms, so even if your partner doesn’t have symptoms, he or she should still be tested.

IMPACT IF NOT TREATED

In rare cases, trichomoniasis can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, which can cause infertility, chronic pelvic pain or ectopic pregnancy.

If a pregnant woman is infected with Trichomonas, it may cause premature delivery or low birth weight. Trich can cause small sores and inflammation, which can increase the risk of HIV transmission. Detection and treatment of a Trichomonas infection will help lower your risk of contracting HIV.

Trichomoniasis is easily treated, but your partner(s) may not have symptoms. Also, if you’re with a partner who’s infected, they can reinfect you after you’ve had treatment.

Telling a partner about a trichomoniasis infection may be embarrassing, but it’s important to be very honest with your partner(s). Let them know so that they can get tested and treated if necessary.

WHEN CAN I HAVE SEX AGAIN?

Ask your health care professional when receiving treatment about when you can have sex again. Do not have sex again if you or your partner(s) have not fully completed treatment, or if you are still displaying symptoms of infection. Remember, you can become reinfected immediately after your infection clears up. As always, it’s a very good idea to use condoms to help prevent sexually transmitted infections and trichomoniasis reinfection.

Source: The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada website, SexualityandU

LEARN MORE: SYPHILIS

Syphilis is a potentially life-threatening sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a bacterium (germ) called Treponema pallidum. This disease was rare in Canada but is now becoming more common. There has recently been an increase in the number of syphilis infections in New Brunswick.

You can have syphilis and not even know it – not everyone who is infected will have symptoms. Syphilis is also known as ‘the great imitator’ as symptoms can be similar to other illnesses. Symptoms can include swollen glands, fever, muscle aches and a rash on the palms of hands and the soles of feet.

HOW IS SYPHILIS SPREAD?

  • Syphilis is mostly spread by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected person.
  • It can be passed from person to person through direct contact with a chancre (stage 1) or rash (stage 2)
  • Pregnant women can pass this infection to an unborn child or at the time of delivery.
  • Although much less common, it may also be spread by sharing infected drug equipment or through broken skin on the body (that is, accidental needlestick injury)
  • Syphilis cannot be spread through contact with toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, shared clothing or eating utensils.
  • After one year of being infected with syphilis, most people will no longer spread the infection.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Not everyone infected with syphilis will have symptoms. You can have syphilis and not know about it. The symptoms are similar for males and females. Without treatment, syphilis progresses in four stages:

Primary syphilis

Three to 90 days after contact – CONTAGIOUS

  • A chancre (sore or ulcer) will appear where the germ entered the body, mainly in the vagina, penis, anus and rectum or on the lips and in the mouth.
  • A chancre is firm, round and small. It is painless so it may go unnoticed.
  • The chancre may be mistaken for genital trauma or genital herpes.
  • A chancre can heal without treatment, but the disease will still progress to stage 2.

Secondary syphilis

Two weeks to six months after contact – MOST CONTAGIOUS

  • The chancre may still be present or may have healed.
  • A rash may appear as rough, red, or reddish brown spots and can be present on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
  • Other possible symptoms: fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, weight loss and muscle and joint aches.
  • Symptoms can be mild.
  • Without treatment, the disease progresses to stage 3.

Latent syphilis

Duration varies from months to years – CONTAGIOUS IN EARLY STAGES

  • Hidden stage with no symptoms

Tertiary syphilis

10 to 30 years after contact – NOT CONTAGIOUS

  • Infection stays in the body for years

HOW IS SYPHILIS DIAGNOSED?

Syphilis is diagnosed through a medical examination, blood test or when, possible, a test done on the chancre. Sometimes a spinal tap test is required. If you are infected with syphilis, you may also be tested for other STIs, including HIV.

HOW IS SYPHILIS TREATED?

Syphilis can be treated, and a person with syphilis should be treated immediately. Syphilis is treated with antibiotics, usually penicillin by injections. After treatment is finished, you must have blood tests to make sure the infection is gone. It is important to not have sex until your doctor or nurse practitioner says that the infection is gone. A person infected with syphilis may need treatment for other STIs.

WHAT HAPPENS IF SYPHILIS IS LEFT UNTREATED?

Untreated syphilis can spread and cause damage to your brain, heart, bones and many other organs in the body and in severe cases, may cause paralysis, blindness, dementia and even death. Pregnant women can pass it to an unborn child, sometimes causing birth defects or death (stillbirth). Skin, bones, teeth, eyes, lymph glands, liver, spleen and brain can be affected. Symptoms can show soon after birth or later in life of a child.

WHO IS AT RISK OF SYPHILIS?

You are at risk of getting syphilis if you have sex with an infected partner or:

  • A man who has sex with men;
  • Those who have multiple sexual partners;
  • Injection drug users or one of their partners;
  • Sex trade workers or one of their partners;
  • A partner coming from a country where syphilis is common;
  • Someone who has had an STI; and/or,
  • Those with street involvement.

HOW CAN SYPHILIS BE PREVENTED?

If you are sexually active, you may lower the risk of getting syphilis by:

  • Limiting your number of sexual partners;
  • Knowing you sexual partner’s history;
  • Having protected sex – Condoms and dental dams can reduce the risk of contracting syphilis, but do not eliminate it because syphilis can be transmitted through contact with an infected sore not covered by a condom. Nevertheless, condoms should be used for vaginal and anal sex. A dental dam is a thin square of latex that should be used during oral sex. Dental dams can be bought in some stores, or you can make your own using a condom or a latex glove.
  • Having regular STI check-ups, which are helpful to identify those who have no symptoms.

It is important to tell your sexual partner if you have syphilis.

Source: Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health: New-Brunswick Public Health

LEARN MORE: HEPATITIS B

LEARN MORE: HEPATITIS C

WHAT IS HEPATITIS C?

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus.

There are different hepatitis viruses that affect the liver. The three types that are common in Canada are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C

HOW IS HEPATITIS C IS TRANSMITTED?

  • Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood to blood contact only (especially shared drug-use equipment)
  • Once inside the bloodstream it infects the liver and causes damage to this very important organ
  • People can become very sick
  • For some people who get hepatitis C, the virus goes away on its own within the first six months after infection
  • For most people, hepatitis C will not go away on its own, but there is treatment that can clear (get rid of) the virus from the body
  • Even people who get hepatitis C and who manage to get rid of the virus may contract again
  • Most people do not show any signs or symptoms until many years after getting hepatitis C
  • The only way to really know is to get tested

HOW CAN BLOOD-TO-BLOOD CONTACT HAPPEN?

Hepatitis C is a strong virus and can live outside of the body for many days. This means that dried blood can also pass the virus. Cleaning an object with products like soap, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, bleach etc. is not sufficient to eliminate the virus.

These are some of the ways hepatitis C can get inside the body:

  • Using drug equipment that has been used by someone else, such as needles, syringes, filters, cookers, acidifiers, alcohol swabs, tourniquets, water, pipes for smoking crack or crystal meth, and straws for snorting.
  • Getting a blood transfusion or an organ transplant that has not been screened for hepatitis C. In Canada, the screening of donated blood and organs for hepatitis C started in 1990. In some other countries, blood wasn’t screened for hepatitis C until more recently.
  • Re-using tools for activities that break the skin, such as tattooing, body piercing, acupuncture and electrolysis. In tattooing, reusing needles as well as ink and ink pots can spread hepatitis C.
  • Re-using medical equipment that should only be used once, such as needles for vaccines. Medical equipment that has been used with other people and not cleaned properly before being used again can also spread hepatitis C.
  • Sharing or borrowing personal items that might have blood on them, such as razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes and earrings.
  • During pregnancy or childbirth. A woman who has hepatitis C can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Having unprotected sex where blood could be present. For example, during anal sex, rough sex, sex during a woman’s period or when one person has open sores.

LEARN MORE: AIDS

WHAT IS AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:

  • Acquired means you are infected through an external source
  • Immune Deficiency means a weakness in the body’s system that fights diseases
  • Syndrome means a group of health problems that make up a disease
  • AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. If you get infected with HIV, your body will try to fight the infection. It will make “antibodies”, special molecules that are supposed to fight HIV. When you get a blood test for HIV, the test looks for these antibodies. If you have them in your blood, it means that you have HIV infection. People who have the HIV antibodies are called “HIV-Positive”
  • Being HIV-positive, or having HIV disease, is not the same as having AIDS. Many people are HIV-positive but don’t get sick for many years. As HIV disease continues, it slowly wears down the immune system. Viruses, parasites, fungi and bacteria that usually don’t cause any problems can make you very sick if your immune system is damaged. These are called “opportunistic infections”

HOW DO YOU GET AIDS?

You don’t actually “get” AIDS. You might get infected with HIV, and later you might develop AIDS. You can get infected with HIV from anyone who’s infected, even if they don’t look sick, and even if they haven’t tested HIV-positive yet.

The blood, vaginal fluid, semen, and breast milk of people infected with HIV has enough of the virus in it to infect other people.

Most people get the HIV virus by:

  • Having unprotected sex
  • Sharing a needle (shooting drugs) with someone who’s infected
  • Being born when their mother is infected, or drinking the breast milk of an infected woman

Getting a transfusion of infected blood used to be a way people got AIDS, but now the blood supply is screened very carefully and the risk is extremely low. There are no documented cases of HIV being transmitted by tears or saliva, but it is possible to be infected with HIV through oral sex or in rare cases through deep kissing, especially if you have open sores in your mouth or bleeding gums.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I’M HIV POSITIVE?

You might not know if you get infected by HIV. Some people get fever, headache, sore muscles and joints, stomach ache, swollen lymph glands, or a skin rash for one or two weeks. Most people think it’s the flu. Some people have no symptoms. The virus will multiply in your body for a few weeks or even months before your immune system responds. During this time, you won’t test positive for HIV, but you can infect other people. When your immune system responds, it starts to make antibodies. When this happens, you will test positive for HIV. After the first flu-like symptoms, some people with HIV stay healthy for ten years or longer. But during this time, HIV is damaging your immune system.

One way to measure the damage to your immune system is to count your CD4+ cells. These cells, also called “T-helper” cells, are an important part of the immune system. Healthy people have between 500 and 1,500 CD4+ cells in milliliter of blood. Without treatment, your CD4+ cell will most likely go down. You might start having signs of HIV disease like fevers, night sweats, diarrhea, or swollen lymph nodes. If you have HIV disease, these problems will last more than a few days, and probably continue for several weeks.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE AIDS?

The HIV infection becomes AIDS when your immune system is so damaged that you have less than 200 CD4+ cells or you get an opportunistic infection. There is an “official” list of these infections, put out by the Centers for Disease Control. The most common ones are:

  • PCP (Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia), a lung infection
  • KS (Kaposi’s sarcoma), a skin cancer
  • CMV (Cytomegalovirus), an infection that usually affects the eyes
  • Candida, a fungal infection that can cause thrush or infections in your throat or vagina

AIDS-related diseases also include serious weight loss, brain tumors, and other health problems. Without treatment, these opportunistic infections can kill you. AIDS is different in every infected person. Some people die soon after getting infected, while others live fairly normal lives for many years, even after they “officially” have AIDS. A few HIV-positive people stay healthy for many years even without taking anti-HIV medications.

IS THERE A CURE FOR AIDS?

There is no cure for AIDS. There are drugs that can slow down the HIV virus, and slow down the damage to your immune system. But there is no way to get all the HIV out of your body. There are other drugs that you can take to prevent or to treat opportunistic infections (OIs). In most cases, these drugs work very well. The newer, stronger anti-HIV drugs have also helped reduce the rates of most OIs. A few OIs, however, are still very difficult to treat.

*This content was originally published by CATIE, Canada’s source for HIV and hepatitis C information. http://catie.ca/en/basics