STIs refer to infections that are transmitted during sexual activity. Antibiotics can cure a number of sexually transmitted infections, but others may still persist, and a number cannot be cured at all. Debilitating symptoms and signs are caused by certain sexually transmitted infections, although some may result in no symptoms, resulting in the infection being spread to others as the person with the infection has no cause to suspect there is anything wrong.
Signs and symptoms in men
STIs generally come in three categories in men:
• Systemic STIS; STIs that result in signs and symptoms throughout the whole body
• STIs that mainly cause abnormalities or sores on the genital organs, also known as genital lesions
• STIs that mainly cause the urethra to become inflamed, also known as urethritis
Syphilis and gonorrhoea are among the sexually transmitted infections that can result in urethritis or genital lesions, but which if left untreated can also spread elsewhere in the body and do damage to other organs. Depending on the precise nature of the particular infection, genital lesions caused by sexually transmitted infections may also result in painful blisters, ulcers or genital warts. Early symptoms and signs frequently linked with a urinary tract infection are also associated with STIs that are responsible for genital lesions, including the likes of discharge from the urethra, and a burning sensation or pain while urinating.
Causes of STIs in men
Different types of microorganisms can cause sexually transmitted infections in men, including bacteria, parasites and viruses. Viral infections include human papillomavirus (also known simply as HPV), hepatitis B and C, human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8) and human immunodeficiency virus (more commonly known as HIV). (1) Bacterial infections that can be sexually transmitted include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis. A good example of a sexually transmitted infection that is the result of a parasite is trichomonas. (2) Parasitic bugs like scabies or lice can also be transmitted during close contact, including sexual activity. (3) The Zika virus is contracted by humans as the result of being bitten by an infected vector mosquito, and then transmitted during sexual contact. (4)
Are you at risk?
Anyone is at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted infection if they engage in any form of sexual activity. The only method of completely removing any chance of acquiring an STI is to abstain from partaking in sexual activity. Latex condoms used during sexual activity can help to cut down on the odds of being infected with many STIs, but there is no completely safe method. According to a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are twenty million new STI infections every year, with around 50 percent of the newly infected being people of both sexes aged between 15 and 24. Men who are actively gay or bisexual are at the highest risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection, with more than 50 percent of all new infections with HIV. (5)
STIs in men
There are a number of varieties of STIs that can affect men who are sexually active, including:
• Chlamydia, the most common symptom of which is urethritis, but which often causes no symptoms
• Gonorrhoea, which can also cause urethritis symptoms (urethra discharge or pain or burning during urination), as well as infections in the throat and rectum
• Trichomoniasis often causes no symptoms, but symptoms are again usually linked to urethritis
• HIV has no specific symptoms, but people can sometimes develop a flu-like illness or fever within two to four weeks after infection, and eventual consequences can include cancers, dementia and unusual infections
• Genital herpes, which can result in painful blisters that eventually turn into ulcers on the penis, buttocks, scrotum and anus, inside the urethra, or on the skin of the thighs
• Genital warts (HPV) can sometimes cause common warts, but has also been linked to some cancers
• Hepatitis B and C can cause no symptoms, but long-term problems can include liver damage and even liver cancer
• Syphilis, which initially manifests into a chancre (a painless ulcer), but if left untreated can spread to other organs and cause symptoms like skin rash, arthritis, swollen lymph nodes, kidney disease, brain infection and more
• Zeka virus, which has been linked to birth defects in babies whose mothers are infected (6)
Men who engage in sexual activity are encouraged to undergo regular STI testing.