Although there is a growing number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), being diagnosed in America, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding them. Be it fear, shame or embarrassment, it can be a taboo topic to have with your sexual partners, let alone (gasp!) your doctor.
But, don’t panic! “Unfortunately, being diagnosed with an STI can be scary, but try not to blame yourself or your partner,” said, Lindsay Allen, MD, a Banner Health Center OBGYN. “Often times no one knows who had the infection first. That’s why getting tested regularly is so important and nothing to be embarrassed about at all.”
If you’ve taken the brave next step to get tested and are diagnosed with an STI, Dr. Allen answered some common questions to help you gracefully and confidently navigate it.
Why Is Testing So Important?
Being diagnosed with an STI means that you should receive prompt treatment for the infection, because there can be consequences if treatment is delayed. Prolonged infection without treatment, or re-infection can put a person at risk of more serious illness such as pelvic inflammatory disease and ultimately can carry consequences like infertility due to permanent damage of reproductive organs.
Another important point Dr. Allen made is that any sexual partner within the past 2 months should also be treated. It is a risk that a person could get re-infected if their partner is not also treated for the STI.
Will I Have an STI Forever?
“Not necessarily. Many STIs are curable, but if they are not, they can still be managed with medication, and sexual activity can be resumed with protective measures,” Dr. Allen said reassuringly.
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial and parasitic infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomonas infections. These kinds of STIs are not permanent and once treatment is completed, a person is totally clear of the infection.
Some STIs are viral in nature: including genital herpes, HIV and hepatitis B or C. These require other therapies such as antiviral medications. Viral STIs are more of a permanent diagnosis depending on the type, and the virus can remain permanently within the body of the person infected. The good news is that antiviral medical therapies can be very effective at reducing the symptoms caused by these kinds of STIs and people who have them can go on to live very healthy lives.
How Do I Tell My Partner?
Telling your past, current and even future partners is also extremely important – albeit difficult to bring up. It’s in the best interest of your sexual partner to know so an infection isn’t spread. Dr. Allen advises her patients to just be honest and truthful with their partner about any current or past diagnoses. In most cases, she says, the conversation turns out to be much easier than her patients had expected. You can even write a script, so you can feel more confident when sharing the news.
“Realize you aren’t dirty or a bad person,” Dr. Allen said. “And, if they don’t respond positively, it says more about them than you.”
Why Do I Need to be Retested?
Once treatment has completed, it is generally a good idea to get retested in about 3 months in order to ensure there was not a treatment failure or a re-infection. Especially if a woman is pregnant, she needs to get repeat testing in a timely fashion.
In general, Dr. Allen recommends getting STI screenings on a routine basis, even if a person has no symptoms or previous infections. This should be done on an intermittent basis, every year or so, especially if you have new sexual partners in that time frame.
“And, it’s always important to keep in mind that STIs are preventable,” Dr. Allen said. “Use condoms, get regular testing and know your sexual partner’s status with infections.”
It can be stressful to discover you have an STI but remember it’s not uncommon, so be kind to yourself.
If you believe you may have an STI, schedule an appointment with a qualified Banner Health OBGYN near you today.