The STI Clinic News > General Sexual Health
# Thursday, 26 January 2017
Posted: Thursday, 26 January 2017 | Categories: General Sexual Health

STI Rates Up in Older People

In the UK, most people tend to associate sexually transmitted infections with irresponsible teenagers and drunken students. But while the statistics certainly support this stereotype to some degree (in this 2016 Public Health England report, 16 to 24-year-olds were found to be most at risk for chlamydia, genital herpes and genital warts), it’s worth bearing in mind that STIs affect every age category. In fact, when it comes to gonorrhoea and syphilis, men over the age of 25 seem to be most at risk.

In perhaps the most surprising news of all, sexually transmitted infections are actually on the rise amongst the oldest age categories. In the last decade, STI diagnoses in people aged between 50 and 70 have risen by a third. To get more specific with the numbers, 2010 saw sexual health clinics recording 11,366 new infections in this age group; by 2014 that number had risen to 15,726.

It’s hard to pin down exactly why we’re currently seeing this trend, but there are a few factors to consider.

Safe Sex Campaigns

The first thing to think about is the fact that safe sex campaigns tend to be targeted towards young people. As a result, the average 18-year-old may well know more about the STI symptoms and where to get tested than the average 62-year-old. In fact, in a study by the Office for National Statistics carried out between 2008 and 2009, it was found that only 19% of men aged 50-69 could correctly answer a series of questions about chlamydia symptoms (as opposed to 37% of men aged 30-34).

Consider too that a lot of sexual education material can be found online, and the fact that youngsters tend to be more proficient with computers and the internet than their parents and grandparents.

Divorce rates

Another factor in rising STI rates amongst older people is divorce. As shown by another Office for National Statistics study, the average age at which people are getting divorced has risen in the UK in recent years – in 2013, the average age for a man to get divorced was 45. But how does that relate to STI rates?

Well, following a divorce, it’s common for newly single people to begin dating and enjoying casual sex. But after many years of marriage, divorced men and women who may be used to having unprotected sex may find it difficult to readjust and start taking precautions again.

Women in the 50 - 70 age bracket may also be more careless when it comes to sex if they have been through the menopause. When the risk of pregnancy is taken out of the equation, it can be tempting to forgo condoms – despite the threat of STIs.

Overcoming the Stigma

When it comes to sex, older people may also feel more reluctance in talking to their doctor, or getting advice about doing things safely. They may even feel embarrassed walking into a pharmacy to buy condoms, particularly if they have not done so in a long while.

The important thing to remember is that the consequences of unprotected sex can be far worse than the slight embarrassment of getting advice from your GP or pharmacist. This is also the case when it comes to getting tested and treated properly.

If you have engaged in unprotected sex and you aren’t sure that your sexual partner or partners were STI-free, you should get tested. You can do this for free by visiting an NHS clinic, or by ordering a home test kit through a private service like The STI Clinic (click here to learn more about our Full STI Screen).

It’s also important to get an STI test if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • pain or a burning sensation when urinating
  • unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
  • fleshy growths around the genitals or anus
  • sore red blisters around the genitals or anus
  • in women, irregular bleeding, heavy periods, pain in the abdomen or pain during sex
  • in men, pain or tenderness in the testicles

Be aware that this is not an exhaustive list of STI symptoms, and that many infections are initially symptomless, so if you think you may have been exposed to something, you should get tested regardless.

 
# Saturday, 05 November 2016
Posted: Saturday, 05 November 2016 | Categories: General Sexual Health

In the popular imagination, syphilis is a disease that belongs to another time: an age before modern medicine, plumbing and hygiene practices. But according to the latest reports, this "old-fashioned" STI is actually experiencing a comeback.

Earlier this year, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control released new data showing that syphilis diagnoses have been steadily increasing across Europe since 2010. As reported here, the ECDC found that gay and bisexual men contract syphilis most frequently; in fact, 63% of all diagnosed cases of syphilis occurred in men who have sex with men (MSM). Perhaps most surprising, though, is that the largest percentage increases in diagnoses year on year were seen in those aged 45 or over.

This increase in syphilis diagnoses can be seen not only across Europe as a whole, but in the UK as well. This year’s STI study from Public Health England reported a 20% increase in syphilis diagnoses from 2014 to 2015 – and an increase of a startling 76% from 2012.

Potential Causes for the Increase in Syphilis Diagnoses

One of the key causes for the increase in syphilis diagnoses may be that many people consider it to be a largely extinct disease. For this reason, they may not be familiar with the symptoms and how it is spread. This may be particularly the case for older people (i.e. the at-risk over-45 age category). Most sex education is targeted towards young people, meaning that older people may be missing out on key information.

As for men who have sex with men, it is thought that better screening programs have contributed to more diagnoses – which puts a positive spin upon these startling numbers. However, many doctors also believe that more and more men in the MSM group are having condomless sex. This may be attributed to the decline of the AIDS crisis, and the sophisticated developments in modern HIV treatment. Bacterial STIs such as syphilis are also on the rise in HIV-positive men who have sex with men (this is because HIV makes you more susceptible to other sexually transmitted infections).

Lastly, although syphilis usually causes symptoms, it can be entirely symptomless in some people. This means that you may be infected and not be aware of it.

Syphilis: Symptoms & Transmission

Syphilis can be contracted through sexual contact with someone who has been infected. In its early stages, the disease is known as "primary syphilis" and causes a small, painless sore or ulcer to develop, usually on the vagina, penis or anus. Because you usually only get one sore and it isn’t painful, it can be easy to ignore this symptom. Another sign that you might have contracted syphilis is swollen glands in the neck, armpits or groin.

Primary syphilis usually passes within a few weeks. However, when left untreated it can develop into secondary syphilis. The symptoms of this stage include:

  • A blotchy red rash
  • Skin growths on the vulva or anus
  • White patches inside the mouth
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Swollen glands
  • Hair loss

In the first two years after contracting syphilis, it is possible to pass on the infection to other people. This usually happens during sex when coming into contact with an infected sore – for this reason, it’s important to practise safe sex (by using condoms and dental dams) when having sex with someone who may be infected.

The problem is that, after its initial stages, syphilis can progress in the body without causing symptoms. If left to develop untreated, it can lead to tertiary syphilis, which is often associated with neurological diseases such as meningitis, dementia, stroke and blindness. At this point, the damage caused by the disease is difficult to reverse.

Testing For & Treating Syphilis

The good news to take away from the ECDC’s scary report is that, because syphilis is a bacterial infection, it can usually be treated with antibiotics.

It’s also very easy to get tested for syphilis. You can get tested for free at an NHS centre such as a GUM clinic. You can also obtain a home test kit from The STI Clinic. Click here to learn more.

 
# Saturday, 15 October 2016
Posted: Saturday, 15 October 2016 | Categories: General Sexual Health

Pain or a burning sensation when you urinate often indicates a sexually transmitted infection. Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and the herpes virus can all cause pain when urinating (also known as dysuria). However, there are a number of other things that can cause this specific symptom.

Urinary Tract Infections

One common cause of dysuria is a urinary tract infection. This is where bacteria enters the urethra, the tube that passes urine and, in men, seminal fluid out of the body. This can happen during sex or when wiping your bottom after a bowel movement. It is more common in women than in men because women have a shorter urethra that is closer to the anus.

If the infection affects the urethra or bladder it can cause pain when urinating, cloudy or bloody urine, abdominal pain, and the need to urinate frequently. This type of UTI can clear up on its own within a few days, though you can also get a prescription for antibiotics to help the healing along.

The infection is more serious if it affects the kidneys or the tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder. Symptoms of this include those listed above, as well as pain in the sides and back, a fever, and feeling sick. These symptoms require more urgent medical care, and shouldn’t be left untreated.

Urethral Syndrome

Urethral syndrome is where the urethra becomes inflamed, but not as a result of a bacterial or viral infection. It causes pain in the abdomen and frequent, painful urination.

Urethral syndrome is thought to be caused by a number of different things, including injury to or irritation of the urethra. The urethra can become irritated by:

  • Using scented products around the urethral opening (e.g. soap, perfume or fragranced sanitary towels)
  • Using spermicidal lubricant during sex
  • Drinking too much caffeine
  • Chemotherapy or radiation treatment

Injury to the urethra, meanwhile, can happen as a result of:

  • Sexual intercourse/activity
  • Riding a bike
  • In women, using tampons
  • In women, using a diaphragm or cap as contraception

In some cases, urethral syndrome is caused by constriction in the urethra, which can happen as a result of inflammation, injury or scarring. If this is the cause of your symptoms, then surgery to widen the urethra may be the best course of action.

Adenoviruses

An adenovirus can cause bladder infection and inflammation, leading to dysuria. These viruses can be spread through close personal contact, but they are not classed as sexually transmitted.

Lesser-known STIs

If you are suffering from painful urination but a doctor has ruled out the major STIs, it's still possible that your symptoms have been caused by a sexually transmitted infection. STIs such as mycoplasma aren’t as common or as well-known as chlamydia or gonorrhoea, but they can still cause dysuria. You can order a home test kit for mycoplasma at The STI Clinic.

Protecting Yourself in the Future

If you are frequently experiencing pain when urinating, you should take some steps to protect yourself. This involves:

  • Using condoms during sex to avoid sexually transmitted infections
  • Not sharing sex toys unless they have been washed or covered in a new condom
  • Not using scented bath products around your genitals
  • Wiping from your urethra back to your anus after a bowel movement, to avoid the spread of bacteria
  • Urinating after sexual intercourse to help expel bacteria from the urethra
  • Avoiding wearing tights or jeans that are too close-fitting
  • Avoiding underwear that isn’t made from cotton

It’s also important to get regular STI tests if you think you might be at risk (e.g. if you don’t use condoms or you have multiple sexual partners). STIs can normally be treated easily if they are diagnosed early on. You can get a full urine screening test at The STI Clinic, by ordering one of our home test kits. Click here to find out more.

It’s not always easy to avoid getting an infection, or incurring injury to the urethra, particularly if you are a woman. However, if you stick to the rules above and visit a doctor when symptoms don’t go away on their own, you should be able to avoid any serious health complications.

 
# Saturday, 10 September 2016
Posted: Saturday, 10 September 2016 | Categories: General Sexual Health

A common kneejerk reaction to hearing a scary statistic is to brush it off, assuming it’s been exaggerated for the headlines. But when you read that 95% of people infected with hepatitis B or C do not know they have the disease – and what’s more, that this piece of information comes from the World Health Organization – you have to sit up and take notice.

Last month, the WHO released this startling statistic to coincide with World Hepatitis Day 2016. It subsequently hit the headlines, with press outlets around the world reporting on the shocking fact, and campaigners calling for greater awareness of the disease. The question is: how much does the average person on the street really know about hepatitis and the health risks that it carries?

Read on to find out just how much you know…

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a word meaning inflammation of the liver. There are several different types of hepatitis, and some are far more serious than others.

In the UK, the most common viral type is hepatitis C. Alcoholic hepatitis is also common in the UK; this is where inflammation of, and damage to the liver is caused by excessive drinking over many years rather than a specific viral infection.

What are the differences between hepatitis B and hepatitis C?

Hepatitis B is spread by the blood of an infected person and is most widespread in developing countries. It can be contracted by having unprotected sex, sharing needles or receiving a tattoo. It is also commonly passed from infected women to their unborn children during childbirth. Adults who contract hepatitis B can normally fight off the infection within a few months, but it tends to be more severe and long-term in children. You can be vaccinated against hepatitis B either privately, or on the NHS if you are in a high-risk group.

Hepatitis C is spread by the blood of an infected person. In the UK, it is most commonly contracted by people who share needles when injecting drugs. It is estimated that one in four people infected will fight off the disease and go on to live a healthy life. However, the remaining people will develop chronic hepatitis C, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. You cannot be vaccinated against hepatitis C, but there are antiviral medicines that can be taken after you have contracted the disease.

Other forms of the disease, such as hepatitis A and E, are short-term and less severe. These types can be passed on through contaminated food.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

The symptoms of hepatitis B will usually develop two to three months after exposure and include:

  • tiredness
  • aches and pains
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach pain and diarrhoea
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • dark urine and pale-coloured faeces

Most people do not experience symptoms when they first contract hepatitis C. However, those who do, tend to experience a flu-like illness, accompanied by stomach pains and nausea. They may also develop jaundice.

Chronic hepatitis B and chronic hepatitis C will lead to further symptoms. If the infection ends up causing cirrhosis, this can lead to weight loss, itchy skin, and tenderness and pain in the abdomen, as well as jaundice and generally feeling unwell.

Preventing Hepatitis

There are some things you can do to avoid contracting hepatitis, including the following:

  • Getting the hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines if you are travelling to high-risk areas (e.g. sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia)
  • Practising safe sex when you are not 100% sure that your partner is free from hepatitis and other STIs
  • Being particularly careful when having anal sex with someone who may be infected
  • Never sharing any drug needles or other drug-injecting equipment
  • Not sharing razors or toothbrushes with someone who may be infected

If you think you may be at risk of hepatitis, it’s a good idea to get tested. You can do this for free at NHS centres, or you can order home test kits from private online clinics such as The STI Clinic.

If you are diagnosed with hepatitis B or C, there are a number of treatment options, and changes that can be made to your lifestyle to make the disease more manageable. The Hepatitis C Trust is one excellent resource to explore.

To learn more about hepatitis B and hepatitis C, click here.

 
# Tuesday, 17 June 2014
Posted: Tuesday, 17 June 2014 | Categories: General Sexual Health

The latest figures for STI infections in England were announced today by Public Health England. Although the overall figures were marginally down on the previous year, there was a marked increase in infections in the over 45 age group. We have written about this phenomenon before and we are on the record as stating that this age group is much less likely to be using barrier protection as they associate condom use with pregnancy prevention rather than as protection against sexually transmitted infections. Many people in this age group are divorced and embarking on new relationships but not taking precautions. Infection rates in the 45 – 64 age group were up 7% on the previous year and in the over 65s, the rate was 8.2% higher.

Amongst the younger age groups of 16 – 24, girls to be appeared much more responsible than boys, with 35% of girls getting tested for Chlamydia, while only 15% of boys got tested. This age group is recommended to get tested once a year or every time that they change sexual partners.

There was also bad news for men who have sex with men (MSM): they are disproportionately affected by Gonorrhoea and Syphilis. MSM accounted for 81% of all Syphilis cases and 63% of all Gonorrhoea cases. Gonorrhoea was up 26% in MSM, against a 15% rise in the population as a whole. As we know, Gonorrhoea is becoming more difficult to treat because of antibiotic resistance so this figure should be particularly alarming. Fortunately, most cases in the UK are uncomplicated and do respond to antibiotics but there is no room for complacency.

You can read the full set of statistics at the PHE website.

 
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