Sexually transmitted infections can wreak havoc on reproduction
Sexually transmitted infections, usually abbreviated as STIs, are a group of infections that commonly affect the genital tract. As the name implies, such infections are spread mainly via unprotected sexual encounters. STIs are more common in adolescents, and in individuals who have multiple sexual partners.
The commonly known STIs are chlamydia and gonorrhea. The rates of these infections have increased in recent years, raising concerns in public health circles.
Chlamydia tends to run a silent course, usually with no telltale symptoms, hence the tendency for it to spread uncontrollably. Gonorrhea usually presents with an unusual vaginal discharge, or penile discharge in men. There may also be urinary symptoms.
Harbouring one sexual infection is known to be a risk factor for other infections, including HIV.
If a sexual infection is suspected, prompt testing and appropriate treatment is advised. Most public and private health facilities have capacity to test and treat STIs.
In addition, all individuals who would have had sexual encounters with the infected person require tracing, testing and appropriate treatment too. This is the only way to limit exponential spread of STIs to others.
STIs have potential grave consequences on the reproductive system. In best case scenarios, an STI identified and treated early may not have long-lasting effects on reproduction. However, both chlamydia and gonorrhea can irreversibly damage the reproductive organs.
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Women may end up with chronic infections that might affect both the fallopian tubes and uterine (womb) function. Men too might suffer blockage within their reproductive tracts. In such scenarios spontaneous conception becomes unlikely, necessitating complex fertility interventions in order to conceive.
Reproduction isn’t the only reason that mandates avoidance of STIs. Untreated sexual infections can lead to chronic pelvic conditions in women. So called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), is a chronic disease mainly as a result of STIs. Women with PID may suffer from chronic pelvic pain, and some require surgical procedures to remove damaged pelvic organs.
Other infections like syphilis can eventually spread to multiple organs like the brain, eyes and the nerves. This usually ends up with debilitating symptoms, and fatalities for some.
Readers may be surprised to know that STIs can easily be prevented. Firstly, individuals must be keenly aware of the existence of STIs. Teenagers and adolescents are especially vulnerable, and the need for sexual education cannot be overstated. Monogamous sexual relationships, in the absence of STIs in either party, is one strategy of keeping STIs at bay.
Condoms are the alternate strategy of preventing STIs. They must be used correctly, and with every sexual encounter with an individual of unknown STI status. Not only will condoms prevent chlamydia and gonorrhea, they also guard against HIV.
Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility Specialist.
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