These are some of the questions we’ve been asked about infections. Sometimes they are called STIs or sexually transmitted infections; other times we call them STBBIs or sexually transmitted and blood borne infections.

To see the answers, click on the question. If you’d like to ask your own question, fill out our form here.

Can you get a STI at any age?

Yes, you can get a STI at any age. In fact, as we age, changes in our bodies may make it easier for us to get certain STIs. For example, during menopause the tissues of the vagina become thinner, which can make HIV transmission easier. People with vaginas under the age of 24 are also at greater risk for HIV transmission because their genital tissues may not be fully developed and are more delicate and prone to tiny tears. Lubrication can help reduce the friction, thus those tiny tears.

It is even possible for a newborn to get a STI. For example, the mother might have an untreated infection at birth. As well, HIV can be passed in breast milk.

Pregnant women can talk to their doctor or nurse practitioner about their risk of passing a STI to their fetus or newborn.

Is it safe to swallow?

When people say “swallow” they generally mean swallowing ejaculate (semen) during oral sex. Generally, yes, it is safe to swallow. But all forms of sexual activity carry some level of risk.

Semen can carry diseases like HIV, and a penis can have other infections like chlamydia or gonorrhoea. The risk of contracting HIV during oral sex is low, although the risk may be higher if there are open sores in your mouth or you have tears in your gums (e.g. from a recent dentist visit).

Remember that any infection you can catch in your vagina or anus, you can also catch in your mouth. All these places have the same tissue, known as mucous membranes.

However, there are ways of minimizing the risks associated with oral sex. Using a condom if you are performing oral sex on a penis will reduce the risk of getting an infection. A dam can provide protection against oral sex, whether it is performed on the vulva or anus.

It’s also wise to get tested for STIs on a regular basis.

Some people may notice that semen upsets their stomach for a short time. This is perfectly normal.

In fact, semen contains some protein, minerals, and sugars, although it has yet to be classed a superfood.

Can I catch a STI from a toilet seat?

It’s almost impossible to catch a STI from a toilet seat. STIs are transmitted when bodies touch, or when fluid carrying an infection enters your system. Therefore, sitting on a toilet presents almost no risk of STI transmission.

The best way to avoid getting a STI is to use condoms during vaginal or anal sex, dental dams or condoms during oral sex, and lube when you insert a finger, toy, or penis into a vagina or anus.

STIs are often caused when body fluids come into contact with another person’s body fluids. These can be found in blood, semen, the vagina and anus, and even breast milk. You can be at higher risk if you don’t use enough lube when having penetrative sex, since too much friction can cause tiny tears in your sensitive vaginal or anal tissues, allowing an infection into your bloodstream.

While STIs can be scary, it’s important to understand what the risks are and how to manage them. There’s no need to be scared of using public bathrooms or fountains.

Can a girl transfer her yeast infection to her boyfriend during sex?

Yes, but this is uncommon. People with penises can get yeast infections and treat them the same way people with vaginas treat theirs. You can purchase creams or tablets that are inserted into the vagina. There are also pills.

Talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner if you have never had a yeast infection or are unsure about your symptoms. It may not be a yeast infection, but something else like bacterial vaginosis, or an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina.

What does STI stand for?

STI stands for sexually transmitted infection. You may have heard this referred to as an STD, or sexually transmitted disease. Formerly, STIs were called venereal diseases. These days, we are also using the term STBBI or sexually transmitted and blood borne infections. Many of these infections can also be caught through unsafe tattooing or needle sharing.

These infections are very common, although some are more common than others. Unfortunately, many people experience stigma, or unfair judgement, based on their infection. In reality, most people who are sexually active will have a STI at some point in their lives. And that’s okay!

It’s important to pay attention to your body and see your doctor or nurse practitioner for regular STI tests or when you’ve had unprotected sex.

Why do people automatically think you’re a slut if you have a STI?

This is a complex question, and shows two important myths at work.

Firstly, STIs are fairly common and dealing with STIs is a reality for most sexually active people. While STIs can certainly have a negative effect on your health, many STIs can be treated or managed. For many, the worst part is not the infection itself, but the shame.

Having STIs is not a reflection of the frequency of someone’s sexual activities. In other words, if you have a STI, it doesn’t mean you have more sex than other people! If you are sexually active, know how to get tested, properly treat infections, and prevent them from spreading.

Secondly, slut is a word usually used to insult women. In our society, we are often taught that men are more sexual than women, but this is a myth. Everyone experiences sexual desires differently, regardless of gender, sex, or sexuality. This stigma leads to a double standard where women are shamed for being sexually active, while men are praised and congratulated.

Finally, it is never okay to call anyone names based on their sexual activity or desires.

If you are raped and get a STI, why do people say that you should have used protection?

Rape is never the fault of the victim, nor are the consequences of rape, like pregnancy or an STI. Non-consensual sex is rape, and victims cannot be blamed or shamed for this traumatic experience.

What should I know about Chlamydia?

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex. Chlamydia can also be passed through childbirth, leading to lung and eye infections in newborns. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in Canada and the US and is also potentially very serious.

What are the symptoms?

Females or those assigned female at birth

  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • A burning feeling when urinating
  • Abdominal pain, sometimes accompanied by a fever and chills
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain, bleeding or discharge from the anus

Males or those assigned male at birth

  • Discharge from the penis that appears ‘watery’ or ‘milky’
  • An itchiness from inside the penis
  • A burning feeling when urinating
  • Pain or swelling of the testicles
  • Pain, bleeding or discharge from the anus

With oral sex and the bacteria entering the throat, there are no symptoms.

How common is chlamydia?

The rates of chlamydia are more than three times greater than gonorrhea and 50 times more common than syphilis. It is the number one most common sexually transmitted infection in many countries.

How can I get tested?

A doctor will examine your symptoms, but will most likely do a urine tests and swabs for the urethra and penis in people with penises, the cervix in those with cervices, as well as the anus if needed.

How is chlamydia treated?

Treatment for a bacterial infection requires the use of antibiotics taken for a few days or a couple weeks. It is important to be tested a couple weeks after treatment, if no symptoms occur and if they do. If treatment doesn’t work the dose of the antibiotic may need to be increased, or you may be still carrying the bacteria.

How long should I wait to have sex?

Sex should be prolonged until medications are finished and test results come back negative for both you and your partner if necessary.

What happens if it doesn’t get treated?

Like gonorrhea this can have serious health consequences for those with uteruses. infections can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) even if there are no symptoms. It causes scarring in the fallopian tubesn, leaving no path for an egg to be released into to meet the sperm, so it leaves the person unable to get pregnant or makes it very difficult to conceive, as well as causes chronic pelvic pain. Chlamydia can also cause ectopic pregnancies (pregnancy outside of the womb) to occur which are dangerous and can be fatal.

For people with penises, there are fewer problems. The infection may spread to the tubes that carry sperm, causing pain and fever and potential sterility. However,this is rare.

Having a STBBI also makes you more susceptible to getting HIV and other STBBIs.

How can I prevent getting or spreading chlamydia if I have it?

To prevent getting the infection it is best to always use condoms and barriers to decrease the risk of transmission when engaging in vaginal, anal and oral sex, regardless of having no symptoms, you could still be carrying the infection. Having a discussion with your partner is also effective. The best option to prevent spread is to abstain from sex until you and/or your partner have finished your treatment and are cleared from having the infection.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Chlamydia Fact Sheet

Planned Parenthood

What should I know about Gonorrhea?

What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex. Gonorrhea causes infections in the throat, rectum, and genitals. It can also be spread from a pregnant person to the baby during birth.

What are the symptoms?

Males or those assigned male at birth

  • May have no symptoms
  • Burning feeling when urinating
  • Painful or swollen testicles
  • White, yellow or green discharge from the penis
  • More frequent urination

Females or those assigned female at birth

  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods

Rectal infection symptoms all bodies

  • Discharge, anal itching, soreness, pain when having a bowel movement, or bleeding

How can I test for it?

  • Urine tests
  • Swabs for the urethra and cervix
  • If you’ve had oral/anal sex, oral and anal swabs may be used

How is it treated?

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that can be treated with oral antibiotics, taken for a few days or a couple weeks. Specifically many are treated with the antibiotic class of cephalosporin, containing the one of the only known antibiotics used to cure the infection: ceftriaxone. Today antibiotic resistance is amore widespread issue when using this treatment as there are now drug-resistant strains. Some people may require a higher dose of the antibiotic, depending on their strain of the bacteria, or a different route of entry such as with intravenous (IV) antibiotics. You should be rechecked every couple weeks until tests are negative and finish all medication. 

What if I have no symptoms and/or don’t get treated?

Although gonorrhea is fairly common and can be easily treated, initial and reoccurring infections can cause serious and irreversible problems with your health as a result of no treatment.

Men or those with penises can have issues with the tubes that deliver sperm which may result in difficulty conceiving a child or to become sterile (no ability to make a child – no access for sperm).

Women or those with uteruses will most likely develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) which often is asymptomatic, although some people have bad abdominal/pelvic pain. This occurs because of blocked fallopian tubes from scar tissue and can cause ectopic pregnancy (a high risk pregnancy that exists outside of the womb) and infertility (inability to become pregnant).

Life threatening conditions can also occur, although it is rare, such as the ability for gonorrhea to travel to the blood and joints as well.

Having a STBBI also makes you more susceptible to getting HIV and other STBBIs.

Who are most at risk?

Those most at risk for getting gonorrhea are any person who is sexually active having unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex. It is important to be tested yearly for a select few however who may be more at risk and these include:

  • Men who have sex with other men, or are gay or bisexual
  • Women or those with uteruses under the age of 25 years with multiple sexual partners or a partner with an STBBI
  • Older women or those with uteruses with multiple sexual partners or a partner with an STBBI

How can I prevent getting or spending gonorrhea if I have it?

To prevent getting the infection it is best to always use condoms and barriers to decrease the risk of transmission when engaging in vaginal, anal and oral sex. Having a discussion with your partner is also effective. The best option to prevent spread is to abstain from sex until you and/or your partner have finished your treatment and are cleared from having the infection. Taking all your medication and not sharing any is also the best way to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria responsible for gonorrhea.

References

Centers for Disease Prevention and Control: Gonorrhea Fact Sheet

Planned Parenthood: Gonorrhea Fact Sheet

The New Yorker: Sex and the Superbug: The rise of drug-resistant gonorrhea. By Jerome Groopman.

What should I know about Syphilis?

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection spread through sexual contact and intercourse, or a congenital infection spread to their fetus during pregnancy.

How can you get syphilis?

  • Through exposure to a syphilis sore, inside or on the vagina, mouth, rectum or penis
  • As a fetus (congenital)

What are the symptoms?

First stage

  • Sores that are painless – often mistaken for ingrown hairs or are unnoticed
  • Symptoms difficult to notice as they share symptoms with other infections
  • Lymph nodes in the groin can remain swollen months after sores have healed

Second stage

  • Body rashes and widespread infection symptoms (rash, fever, lack of appetite)
  • Symptoms of an infection in the central nervous system (trouble seeing/hearing, headaches)

Third Stage

  • More serious symptoms arise years after surrounding many body organ systems causing death

What exactly are the three stages of syphilis?

The three stages of syphilis show the symptoms getting worse the longer a person has the infection. The infection can cause long-term consequences if not treated timely or correctly. There are three stages of the infection which can ultimately lead to syphilis becoming a serious chronic disease.

  • Stage one

Sores formed (one or more) where the syphilis virus entered the body. They will stay for three to six weeks and heal. The sores are usually mistaken for any other round and firm lump, or not noticed, as they are painless. The sores heal regardless of treatment; however, treatment is easy with access to antibiotics and is necessary. Usually lymph nodes remain swollen months after sores heal. More dangerously, however, syphilis bacteria can enter the central nervous system and attack the brain.

  • Stage two

The signs of a widespread infection can occur two to twelve weeks after the sores appear. These include a fever, sore throat, lack of energy and appetite, and a rash on the body or hands and feet (brownish-red spots) that can cause hair loss. Sometimes, this is not noticeable and will not itch. When the brain is affected in this stage people often experience ringing in their ears, headaches and the difficulty to see and hear clearly. Treponemes – bacteria that invade the central nervous system also inhabit the “wet sores” in areas such as the mouth, tonsils, throat and genitals. These are the most infectious.

  • Stage Three: The late stages

Without treatment prior symptoms now start to disappear and people may appear to be symptom free. Blood tests at this point can still detect syphilis, as most of the damage is happening within the body by the treponema bacteria (bacteria that invades the central nervous system). The condition becomes very serious as it starts to cause problems sometimes 10-30 years later, with problematic muscle movements, paralysis, dementia, blindness, meningitis, stroke, etc. It can even lead to death.

Is syphilis common?

In recent years there has been an increase in rates of syphilis, occurring mainly in regional outbreaks.

What should I do to make sure I don’t have it?

Blood tests should be done yearly, even if you have no symptoms. You can have the infection without knowing it and easily pass it on to a partner. A doctor can also test the fluid in one of the sores. To prevent the infection, you should avoid sex when seeing sores or a rash on a partner, and use condoms or dams to reduce your risk.

Is it treatable?

Good news is that yes, it is treatable. Bacterial infections are commonly cured with antibiotics, whereas viral infections can’t be. Follow-ups are important to confirm the antibiotics worked, especially if you have no symptoms. Any previous damage cannot likely be undone. Talk to your doctor about treatment options if you are also HIV-positive.

What if I am pregnant with syphilis?

Having syphilis while pregnant can lead to a miscarriage, stillbirth or death of the baby. Sometimes the newborn presents no symptoms, and other times a rash. Syphilis in a baby needs to be treated to prevent conditions such as seizures and developmental disorders, as well as problems with many organs. High risk screening in the first and third trimester allows for potential treatment.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Syphilis Fact Sheet

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: STDs and Pregnancy

CATIE Syphilis Fact Sheet

 

What should I know about the Herpes Virus?

What is herpes?

Herpes is a viral infection that is caused by two types of viruses – herpes simplex type 1 and 2.

Both types can be transmitted through intimate skin to skin contact or through secretions during intercourse (when the penis enters the mouth, vagina, or anus).

What is the difference between the herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2?

The general area affected by the virus is what differs in the types of the herpes simplex virus.

Type 1 usually affects the mouth through cold sores, although it can spread to the genital area, whereas Type 2 mainly affects the genital area in the form of blisters and sores.

How do I know I have herpes?

Signs of the virus may or may not be visible; however, symptoms of the infection are:

  • Lesions on or near the genital area and the mouth (cold sores).
  • Flu-like symptoms and a tingling feeling on your skin before you produce water blisters. Blisters will break, leading to a sore in the area that will scab over and heal on its own.

Testing for herpes however can only be done when there is an outbreak of sores and lesions so they can be examined and swabbed for testing. Blood tests are not a reliable option.

What is an outbreak and how often would I get one?

Outbreaks are periods where symptoms are visible because the virus is ‘active’ in the body. There are usually one or two blisters, and the first outbreak is often the worst. The sores from the blisters can take two to four weeks to heal as well. Outbreaks may be few and far between (weeks to months to years) while the virus stays dormant; however, outbreaks reoccur and can occur more often with:

  • Hormonal changes (pregnancy)
  • A weakened immune system or physical and emotional stress (anxiety, and depression)
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Irritation to the area, etc.

Is there any way to avoid getting so many outbreaks? Are they painful?

  • Use good hygiene and clean the area well to keep it clean
  • Don’t wear clothes that are too tight and try wearing cotton underwear
  • Eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercising
  • Using Epson salts when bathing
  • To ease painful urination, you can pour warm water over the sore area or urinate in warm water

Outbreaks can be painful and pain medications may be a good option during these times. There are many ideal pain treatment options you can try. Outbreaks tend to get less severe and painful as they occur.

How can I get herpes and can I easily give it to someone else?

  • Can be transmitted from direct contact with cold sores through kissing or oral sex; or by indirect means, such as sharing drinks and lip gloss
  • From physical contact with sores (on genital area, legs, face, etc.)
  • From a family member – and having physical contact from a young age

It is important to know that even when signs of the virus are not visible (cold sores or lesions), the infection is still contagious. You can pass along the virus in the same ways you contracted it through contact with a sexual partner. It can also be passed on to a newborn during vaginal childbirth.

How common is it?

  • 45 million Americans over the age of 12 have genital herpes (1,640,000 HSV-2 annually)
  • In NS, 58.1% of 1,790 of women with herpes had HSV-1 compared to 36.7% of 468 of men
  • Type 2 or genital herpes (HSV-2) is more common in women (1 in 4, compared to 1 in 8 men)
  • One study showed transmission occurred in 70% of people during asymptomatic periods

Is herpes curable?

There is no cure. However, antiviral medications can reduce the risk of transmission and outbreaks from happening, or shorten their duration. The use of condoms offers some protection; however, with herpes the sores are not isolated to the genital area and even coming in contact through touch can transmit the infection. Female or internal condoms may help cover more of the vulva. Abstaining from sexual activity when symptoms are visible is recommended.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Health and Social Services of Quebec

Planned Parenthood Toronto

Public Health Agency of Canada

Women’s Health

What should I know about the Human Papilloma Virus? (HPV)

What is HPV?

HPV or Human Papilloma Virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection. There are so many different types of HPV that almost all people will acquire the virus at some point in their lives. HPVs are simply a large group of viruses closely related to each other.

How is HPV spread?

HPV is most commonly acquired through sexual contact, such as vaginal, anal and oral sex. You cannot get it from hugging or holding hands, toilet seats, sharing food or utensils, or any other type of nonsexual contact.

What are the types of HPV?

There are over 120 types of the human papilloma virus, most of which cause warts or don’t cause any health problems or symptoms. The body can fight off many of the different strains. Other types, however, which may not go away on their own, such as 6 and 11, can cause 90% of genital warts but are considered ‘low risk’, and the most common cancer types, 16 and 18 (among many others) which are considered ‘high risk’. The types that cause genital warts do not cause cancer, they are low risk because it is very rare.

What types of cancer does HPV cause?

HPV can cause cancer of the vagina, cervix, vulva, penis, and anus, and found more recently, oropharyngeal cancers of the back of the throat, tonsils and base of the tongue. Although cells changes can occur leading to detection, cancer usually doesn’t develop until decades later in life when abnormalities are not detected and are left untreated.

Human papilloma viruses are associated with the following:

  • 80–90% of anal cancers
  • 40% of vaginal and vulvar cancers
  • 40–50% of penile cancers
  • 25–35% of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers

What are the symptoms?

Most of the types of HPV cause warts to appear on the skin, such as on arms, feet and hands. Other warts can appear on mucous membranes such as in the vagina, anus, mouth and throat, visible through the outside. Genital warts appear as small bumps around the genital area. They can be any size, they could be flat or raised and could also look like cauliflower. This type of HPV can be diagnosed by a physician based on these physical symptoms. Other forms of HPV are unable to be detected however, unless cell changes are found, for example in the cervix by a pap test. Types of HPV, such as the cancer causing types can remain dormant in the body, living in the surface cells of mucous membranes, otherwise the virus often goes unnoticed and is expelled from the body.

How can I be tested?

There is no test to detect an overall HPV status. There is also no approved test to find HPV in mucous membrane areas, unless a change of cells is detected and a biopsy can be done to find out if the type is the cancerous 16 or 18, or abnormal cells are found during a pap test.

How can I protect myself?

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself from the human papilloma virus. The vaccine protects against genital warts and cervical cancer caused by HPV for people with cervices, and protect people assigned male at birth from cancer and genital warts, also preventing the spread. Three doses of the vaccine are given over six months and all three doses must be given to be effective.

Get regular pap tests to screen for cervical cancer or cell changes around the cervix. Routine screening is recommended for all people with cervices from the ages of 21-65 every couple of years, or yearly in the event of an abnormal screening. It’s the most effective testing for those 30 years and older who have a cervix.

Use latex condoms which protect better against STBBIs when compared to other more porous condoms and the option of no protection at all. HPV however can still infect places not protected by a condom, so condoms do not completely protect you from transmission. Also being in a monogamous relationship which is mutual decreases your risk.

When should people get vaccinated?

Youth should both be vaccinated at age 11 and 12. Vaccines are encouraged to be given before 21 for people who were assigned male at birth and 26 for people assigned female at birth. Men who have sex with men should be vaccinated as well as those with compromised immune systems, such as people with HIV.

Is genital warts caused by HPV the same as herpes?

The herpes simplex virus is different than the human papilloma virus. It is also a very different virus than HIV.

How common is HPV actually?

HPV is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection, meaning all those who are sexually-active will get at least one type during their lifetime. Approximately 79 million Americans are infected with it now and 14 million people will become infected each year. For those who has genital warts from HPV, they say there are 360,000 people in the US who transmit the infection yearly, and 11,000 people who get cervical cancer. As we know HPV causes other types of cancers, but these stats are not known to date.

Can I be treated even if it’s a virus?

You can treat the symptoms and health problems caused by HPV; however, you cannot treat the virus itself. Physicians can give you treatments for warts or genital warts. When untreated they may go away on their own or they may remain the same or grow and multiply. Cervical precancer can be detected early by routine pap tests and can be treated before cancer develops. Other cancers caused by HPV can also be treated when found early enough, but it can be hard to diagnose when you are not looking. Prevention is what we should try to strive for.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: HPV

Cancer.org: HPV and Cancer Information

Cancer.ca: Types of HPV

What should I know about HIV and AIDS?

What is HIV?

HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that weakens your immune system, or the defense system of your body, which works to protect you from getting any kind of sickness. Unlike other viruses, the complexity of the virus keeps the immune system from removing it. The virus causes an immunodeficiency and leaves you open to attack from other viruses and infections.

What is AIDS?

AIDs or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the late phase of the infection to which HIV can progress. It is when your immune system becomes deficient and can no longer fight off foreign invaders. It is called a syndrome because it is complex with many symptoms and complications.

How is HIV spread?

HIV is spread though body fluids including semen or pre-cum, rectal and vaginal fluid, breast milk and blood, making it a sexually transmitted and blood borne infection. A person becomes infected when the virus gets into the bloodstream of another person, whether it be directly through broken skin such as sharing needles/being pierced or poked (i.e. drugs, tattoos, piercing) or through mucous membranes such as the vagina, penis and rectum during unprotected sex. HIV is not spread by indirect means such as toilet seats, towels, cups, food or shaking hands.

Can I get HIV then from a blood transfusion?

As of 1985 all Canadian blood products are required to be screened for HIV, so therefore it is very rare this would occur.

How can I protect myself?

You can protect yourself from HIV by engaging in safe vaginal, oral and anal sex by using condoms or other barriers. This will help reduce your risk.

Part of safe sex is to also stick to water and silicone-based lubricants instead of oil-based as they break down condoms. Latex condoms are also the safest as they are not porous like sheepskin condoms which can let STBBIs in. Also avoid sharing needles (i.e. use your own equipment) and use clean equipment each time for any injection. Cleaning needles with bleach and water will kill HIV, but not another disease which attacks your liver – hepatitis C.

What are the symptoms?

Usually people do not know they have HIV by symptoms. They may have flu-like symptoms or may have none at all. Those who are at risk should be tested and those with potential exposure should also seek testing.

How and when are you tested?

If you think you have been exposed to the virus, it is very important to get tested as soon as possible by taking a blood test that will tell you if you are positive or negative. All tests are accurate by three months.

Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?

There is no cure for this virus. There are however treatments to prevent HIV from developing into AIDS, preventing other illnesses, and to keep HIV under control to prolong life.

What are the treatments?

Anti-HIV drugs can be taken daily to decrease the rate of progression. These include a combination of antiretroviral drugs. Combination therapy (taking more than one drug) can help prevent resistance. These medications prevent illness and prolong the person’s life and their quality of life. Although HIV is a virus that exists in the body for life after the person is infected, these drugs can keep the amounts of virus low in the body.

What happens when you don’t get treatment?

Without treatment for HIV, the virus can damage your body and leave you open to infections. You can acquire other life-threatening illnesses and become very ill. This is when you get to the most serious period of infection, otherwise known as AIDS.

What if I am HIV-Positive?

  • Legally you need to let potential future sexual partners know of your status, and although there are a few exceptions, it is very important to disclose
  • You can be healthy. Healthcare has advanced tremendously and there are better treatments and care
  • Practice harm reduction – i.e. safer sex and clean needles
  • Connect with supports – there are many support groups and networks there for you (i.e. national organizations such as CATIE and also many local supports such as sexual health centres, public health groups, peer supports, as well as physicians, and nurses)

Resources

AIDs.gov: HIV/AIDS

Avert: HIV/AIDS Treatment

CATIE: HIV/AIDS Basics

What should I know about Hepatitis B?

What is hepatitis B?

An infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus. The liver is a very important organ in the body. It stores minerals and vitamins, filters the chemicals in the body, and helps digest foods and produce blood and proteins.

How is hepatitis B spread?

Hepatitis B is spread through sexual intercourse and the exchange of bodily fluids/blood, making it a blood borne infection. It can be spread in the following ways:

  • Unprotected sex, having multiple partners (high-risk sexual activity)
  • Injection (sharing needles, pipes, aka contaminated equipment) and intranasal drug use (cleaning even with bleach may not remove HBV)
  • Living/being in a place with widespread HBV
  • Born to a mother with HBV
  • Exposure to blood, especially in areas with poor infection control
  • Using care equipment that belongs to someone infected, such as toothbrushes, razors, etc.
  • Tattoo equipment
  • Sharp equipment in the workplace such as needles, or coming in contact with bodily fluids

Prior to the 1970s it was possible to acquire the virus from blood transfusions; however, today this is a lot less likely as blood products are thoroughly tested in Canada.

How easy it is to get or transmit?

The hepatitis virus is more infectious than the HIV virus; however, it is only spread through the mixing of fluids or blood and through exposure to equipment that can harbour the virus. The virus is not spread through low-risk contact such as kissing, shaking hands, touching, breastfeeding, or exposure to droplets through sneezing or coughing.

What are the symptoms and when would I begin to notice them?

Of the 50% who develop symptoms, most people don’t notice they’re infected until symptoms show up anywhere between two to six months later. The infection usually does damage to the liver before it is found. About 50% of people infected actually won’t develop symptoms until their liver is already damaged. Symptoms can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice (eyes and skin become yellow in colour)
  • Dark urine and pale stools
  • Stomach and joint pain

Within six months of being infected 95% of those infected will fight the virus off on their own as long as it’s not chronic. This prevents them from being infected again.

What kind of damage is done to the liver?

Most people with hepatitis B feel fine and recover fairy quickly. In combination with other hepatitis strains or for various reasons a ‘chronic’ HBV infection (in less than 5% with the HBV), some people may see more serious problems such as:

  • Liver failure
  • Liver cancer
  • Cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver
  • Early death

You can prevent further damage to your liver by getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and C as well.

How is hepatitis B treated?

Sometimes, hepatitis B is treated with antiviral medications when it is a chronic infection. Otherwise, there’s no treatment for an acute infection.

Is it a virus I can prevent getting with a vaccine? How else can I prevent getting hepatitis B?

A vaccine is available and is free in all provinces and territories of Canada for children and some adult groups at risk or with access. If you are pregnant with the virus your baby is at a high risk for getting the chronic infection. After birth it is strongly recommended that the newborn receive an injection and within 12 hours the vaccination for prevention. Babies at birth will display no symptoms, but because they have no immunity built up to fight the virus, with no treatment, they can carry the disease for life.

Other ways to prevent hepatitis B is to practice safe sex, use gloves when potentially coming into contact with bodily fluids, avoid procedures that enter the skin especially when unsure about the cleanliness of the equipment (tattooing, piercing, and acupuncture), avoid sharing drug equipment, and do careful traveling to other countries.

What’s the difference between hepatitis A, B and C?

There is a hepatitis A and B vaccine, however none for hepatitis C. They all have similar symptoms and are all caused by a virus. Treatment is not available for hepatitis A, as it doesn’t lead to a chronic infection and most recover with no permanent damage. Hepatitis C results in 60-70% of those infected developing chronic liver disease and annually it is the cause of death for 17,000 people in the US. (See fact sheet from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention)

References

Canadian Liver Foundation

Centers of Disease Control and Prevention

Public Health Agency of Canada

What should I know about Pubic Lice and Scabies?

What are scabies? What are pubic lice?

Scabies are itchy mites. Pubic lice are different than head lice (like tiny insects), but are usually called crabs based on their appearance. They live in areas with coarse hair, such as in the pubic area.

How are pubic lice and scabies spread?

They both live on the skin and can be spread through sexual contact, as well as by other ways, such as from bed sheets, or from towels or clothing. It is possible to get them through any type of close contact.

What does it look like?

Scabies are smaller than the head of a pin and lay eggs under the skin. Crusted scabies is a worse condition where there are a large number of mites under the skin. This however is uncommon and happens mainly in older people or those who have some types of illnesses, like HIV. Pubic lice however usually thrive in coarse pubic hair and attach their eggs to the strands, which look like tiny brown coloured dots. Both actually can live in other areas of the body with hair as well, such as on the legs and face.

What are the symptoms?

It may take weeks after contracting lice or scabies that you notice anything, but you may notice:

  • A lot of itching in areas
  • Black droppings from the lice in your underwear that appears powdery
  • Brown eggs on body hair or pubic hair
  • Light blue spots or tiny dots of blood on the skin that go away after a couple of days
  • Inflammation or irritated skin in areas most likely due to scratching
  • You or your partner may notice the lice moving

How common is it?

Scabies and pubic lice are common, especially due to their mode of transmission which doesn’t have to be through direct sexual contact.

How do you treat lice?

  • Over the counter medications are the best option, as shaving the hair, heat, and other homemade remedies won’t be successful. These over the counter medications come as creams and sometimes need to be applied more than once to many areas of the body.

Resources

Family Planning Association: Pubic lice and scabies

Planned Parenthood

What should I know about Trichomoniasis (Trich)?

What is Trichomoniasis?

Trichomoniasis or “trich” is a sexually transmitted parasite, which is a living single-celled organism, called a trichomona. It is one of the most common causes of vaginitis (vaginal inflammation) that differs from yeast infections, which aren’t transmitted through sexual intercourse.

Can it be spread by other means?

Old research and information used to state that you could get trichomoniasis from toilet seats; however, that is false, you cannot get a STBBI from objects such as toilets, spreading the infection comes from direct sexual contact. The parasite also ultimately lives and multiples within males or people who were assigned male at birth, who will most likely have no symptoms, and is therefore transferred to females or those who were assigned female at birth.

How common is trichomoniasis?

Trichomoniasis is most common in people who were assigned female at birth, but more common in older women.

What are the symptoms?

The parasite in trichomoniasis mainly infects the urethra, bladder and vagina, and the penis. In people with vaginas, it can cause:

  • A green, yellow or gray discharge with a foul, fishy smell
  • Redness around the vagina
  • Itchiness, soreness or burning around the vagina
  • Pain when urinating
  • Pain when having sex
  • Little red dots in the vagina or on cervix

People with penises won’t have or won’t be aware of any symptoms with trichomoniasis, and fairly often people with vaginas may not experience symptoms either (85% of the time).

How do they test for trichomoniasis?

A doctor will do a swab of the vaginal discharge and test the pH, which would be higher with the parasite (or less acidic) than the normal 4.5 level. They may also do a pap test or culture the specimen to observe under a microscope to see if it is the suspected parasite. A pelvic examination may also be necessary.

How do they treat it?

Both you and your partner need to be treated as you can be infected again by your partner with only individual treatment, especially if your partner has a penis. The treatment involves both partners taking an antibiotic prescribed by the doctor. It is necessary to take the entire prescribed dose of antibiotic (Metronidazole and Tinidazole) taken by mouth and avoid having sex until cured. In some cases such as an allergy you may be prescribed some cream to apply to the area, however they are usually better at easing symptoms than fighting the actual infection.

How can I prevent getting trichomoniasis?

The only way that is 100% effective in preventing trichomoniasis is to not have sex; however, if you are, you can only reduce your risk by having safe sex and limiting your sexual partners. You can’t pick up trichomoniasis by other means such as saunas or wet objects, like it was once believed.

What happens if I don’t get treated?

Any STBBI that you have that’s not treated correctly can increase your risk of getting other infections, especially HIV. It can also be risky for pregnant people. Having the infection can also cause problems with pregnancy – such as a low weight at birth for the newborn and being born early.

Is it safe to use the antibiotics mentioned during pregnancy?

This question may be answered best by your doctor about the risks and benefits, although Metronidazole is a drug safe to use during pregnancy. It is recommended by some doctors however not to take Metronidazole, like many medications, during the first trimester or first three months when the fetus is developing organs.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Planned Parenthood

Women’s Health

Young Women’s Health