What is an STI?
If you are sexually active, you can get a sexually transmissible infection (STI) – even if you practice safe sex most of the time. It is estimated that around one in every six people will get an STI in their lifetime.
There are many different STIs, such as:
Pubic lice (crabs)
Not all of them have obvious symptoms, so there is a chance that you or your partner could have an STI without knowing it.
The good news is, most STIs are curable and all are treatable. If left untreated, STIs can have long-term effects on your body.
In most cases, a simple blood or urine sample is all that is needed.
Who should get an STI test and how often?
If you are sexually active, you should get an STI test at least once every 12 months.
If you are planning or you are having a baby, it is also important that you and your partner have an STI test to prevent any infections being passed onto your baby.
Some people have different testing needs so it is important to talk to your doctor about how regularly you should be getting tested. For men who have sex with men, gay identifying or bisexual men, we recommend getting regular check-ups for STIs, including HIV and syphilis, at least once a year. Have more frequent (three-monthly) check-ups if you have an increased number of sexual partners (for example, more than 10 partners in three months), are HIV-positive, or participate in group sex.
If you are sexually active, talk to our doctors about having a check-up, even if you do not have any signs or symptoms of an STI.
What happens if I get a positive STI test result?
Your doctor will be able to talk you through what treatment you will need, which might include antibiotics (particularly for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, Mycoplasma genitalium and syphilis).
For viruses such as genital herpes, HIV, hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV), treatments will control the virus, help prevent symptoms, and prevent them from being transmitted.
The best way to avoid needing treatment is to take proactive steps to avoid getting STI. Condoms are the easiest and most effective way, to protect yourself from STI.
Remember: Do not try to diagnose your symptoms yourself, and not all genital signs and symptoms are caused by an STI.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system, interfering with the body's ability to fight off infections. HIV is not the same as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection, when the immune system is at its weakest and the affected individual has one or more specific illnesses.
In Australia, HIV is commonly transmitted through:
Unprotected anal or vaginal sex without a condom
Sharing drug injecting equipment
Tattooing, piercing and other procedures with unsterile equipment
Transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding
HIV transmission can be prevented by using condoms, avoiding shared injecting equipment, getting regular sexual health checks and taking HIV medications, such as PrEP (see below).
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)
PrEP is taken as a daily pill by people who are HIV negative and at risk of being infected. PrEP is a safe and well-tolerated drug and has been approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). If taken as prescribed, PrEP reduces the risk of HIV transmission by almost 100%.
Find out more about PrEP here.
Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
PEP is a month-long course of drugs to help prevent HIV infection. It is taken after a possible exposure to HIV.
PEP is most effective when started within 24 hours, but it must be started within 72 hours after a possible exposure to HIV. The sooner PEP is taken, the better.
Find out more about PEP here.
Book an appointment with Dr Mark Choong
Dr Mark Choong is a HIV GP specialist. He is a regular HIV PEP and PrEP prescriber.