It’s a fairly well-known fact now that several sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can pose significant health issues, and are not necessarily always easy to spot. Gonorrhoea and chlamydia are just two examples of infections which often do not cause any noticeable outward signs.
However newer STIs are emerging and some, like their more widely-known predecessors, are also asymptomatic. This means now more than ever practising safe sex and regular STI screening is important.
Here we’ll take a look at five new STIs that have become more of a concern in recent years:
This type of infection is more commonly associated with meningitis, where the membranes of the brain and spinal cord are infected, and sepsis a serious blood infection. However, more recently it has been seen as a cause of urogenital infections, such as urethritis, and linked to sexual contact.
How is Neisseria meningiditis contracted?
The transmission routes of N.meningitidis are not entirely understood. However, recent research into the infection has suggested that it might be being transmitted to sexual partners through oral sex.
How common is Neisseria meningiditis?
This type of bacteria can be found in the back of the throat and mouth of an estimated five to 10 percent of people. But for the majority of these people its presence does not lead to any known problems.
Recorded cases of urogenital infections caused by N.meningitidis are low. However, scientists investigating the development believe that the infection has adapted to become more like the common gonorrhoea infection. The changes have allowed the N.meningitidis infection to be able to survive in the low-oxygen environment found in the urogenital area. If it continues to show adaptatable qualities like those of gonorrhoea it could potentially become drug resistant too.
Can you get tested for N.meningitidis?
If you attend a GUM clinic for STI screening, the tests will not specifically look for N.meningitidis. It can present in a similar manner on test results to gonorrhoea; but if you have a test which comes back negative for more common STIs, you may be referred to a hospital for further testing.
People who have urogenital symptoms may be advised to begin taking antibiotic treatment before their test result is ready
How is Neisseria meningiditis treated?
When identified, this STI has been treated using methods currently used to treat gonorrhoea. Patients presenting with urethritis symptoms caused by N.meningitidis, when attending a sexual health clinic in Columbus, were all successfully treated using the current treatment line for gonorrhoea.
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M.genitalium is one of the smallest bacteria to have been identified, and not much is known about it at present. It can invade the genital and urinary tracts as well as the rectum. It is possible to be infected and not show any symptoms but women might notice vaginal discharge, pelvic pain or bleeding between periods; and men might develop urethral discharge, penile pain or pain when passing urine.
How is it contracted?
Mycoplasma genitalium can be passed on through genital and anal intercourse. It is thought to be much less likely (but not impossible) to be passed on through oral sex.
Scientists are currently unable to determine how long it takes for an infection to establish itself following exposure.
How common is M.genitalium?
It is estimated to infect about one to two percent of the population, so has been causing concern in the sexual health world.
The infection is frequently asymptomatic in nature but it can cause urethritis or irritation of the cervix. This infection has been linked to female infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Is there a test for Mycoplasma genitalium?
Yes. A urine test or genital swab can be used to determine whether an infection is present.
How is Mycoplasma genitalium treated?
A course of antibiotics is used to treat Mycoplasma genitalium, however there is some debate about what the most appropriate treatment is. Currently, draft guidelines from the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) recommend a seven day course of Doxycycline followed by a three day course of Azithromycin.
If you have received a positive test result for M.genitalium you should avoid having sex until after treatment.
This gut infection can cause fever, nausea, explosive diarrhoea or vomiting. Symptoms may develop one to three days after exposure to the infection.
How is Shigella flexneri transmitted?
This infection can be contracted through direct or indirect contact with human faeces. In the past it was more commonly associated with young children and travellers to third world countries. However, the practice of anal-oral sex could potentially be a causal factor.
Is there a test for Shigella flexneri?
Yes. If you are concerned you may have contracted the disease you should inform your GP. Shigella symptoms can be confirmed with a stool sample test.
How is Shigella flexneri treated?
Not everyone with Shigella flexneri requires antibiotic treatment. You should keep hydrated, avoid having sex and frequently wash your hands until the infection passes. This can typically take up to seven days.
This STI is caused by the presence of a parasite called giardia lamblia in the digestive system. It can cause unpleasant gastric symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating and abdominal pain.
How is Giardiasis spread?
Giardiasis can be contracted via unprotected sex; in particular sex that involves the anal passage. It can also be transmitted through other non-sexual routes where faecal particles are allowed to enter the system. This might be via untreated water or touching a surface touched by another infected person.
How common is Giardiasis?
Giardiasis is not a commonly recorded STI but it is possible that some infected people are unaware that they have the disease.
Is there a test for Giardiasis?
A stool sample can be used to test for the presence of the parasite.
How is Giardiasis treated?
A short course of antibiotics can usually clear up a giardiasis infection. Infected patients usually experience symptoms for approximately seven days, but they can last longer.
This is a type of chlamydia bacteria that targets the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes play an important role in the the body’s immune system. Infected patients may develop symptoms of an inflamed rectum which can cause ulcers, pus and bleeding. The lymph nodes in the armpits, groin or neck may become swollen or show signs of a rash.
How is LGV contracted?
This condition can be picked up during anal sex or other forms of sex that involve the back passage. The soft skin of the rectum and penis can be particularly vulnerable to infection. LGV is more commonly seen in men who have sex with men, but women and heterosexual men can also become infected.
How common is LGV?
The presence of LGV in the UK is a fairly recent phenomenon. It is still a relatively rare STI, especially when compared to the more common form of chlamydia (C. Trachomatis). It is more frequently diagnosed in men who have sex with men and those who have already been diagnosed with another STI.
Can a test confirm infection?
Yes. People showing signs of LGV infection may initially be tested for chlamydia. If this test returns a positive result then a swab of the rectum, penis, vagina or cervix may be taken to check for LGV. It is possible to have LGV without showing any symptoms. This is one of the reasons why regular STI screening is important.
Can LGV be treated?
Yes, LGV can be cured with a course of antibiotics. Swift treatment can prevent any lasting damage from the infection.
How to protect yourself against new STIs
STI prevention starts by following safe sex practices during every sexual encounter. Wearing a condom during sex, including anal and oral sex, is the most effective method of protection against STIs. A fresh condom should be used to cover sex toys if they are being shared. Washing your hands or showering before and after sex can prevent contact with faecal matter.
Read more about how to prevent STIs.