Did you know that your pharmacist can sometimes help with sexual health-related issues? Speak to your pharmacist in total confidentiality if you are experiencing these types of problems.
Despite the large number of prevention and education programs, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continue to spread. How can this be avoided?
WHAT ARE SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS (STIs)?
A sexually transmitted infection or (STI), is an infection that is transmitted during sexual intercourse by an individual who is a carrier of the infection to a healthy individual. It may consist of a virus, bacteria, fungus or parasite. Although STIs are usually transmitted during intercourse, they can also be transmitted through blood (e.g. sharing syringes or using soiled paraphernalia) or through contact with other contaminated body fluids.
Unfortunately, STIs are on the rise in Canada and can lead to serious consequences as much from an individual health standpoint as from a socioeconomic perspective. Moreover, STIs are a major public health issue. Being well-informed and adopting safe and healthy sexual practices is crucial in preventing the spread of STIs.
There are several types of STIs. The most common are:
- genital herpes
- hepatitis A and B
- human papilloma virus(HPV)
- human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS
WHO IS MOST AT RISK OF CONTRACTING AN STI?
No one is immune to STIs. However, some portions of the population are more affected by them than others. These infections can affect people of all ages, but there is a higher incidence in young people between the ages of 15 and 24 more. The susceptibility of contracting STIs depends on several factors, including age, gender, health, immunity, sexual practices, sexual orientation, etc.
From what we know, we do not have a natural immunity against most STIs. Additionally, previously having contracted an STI increases the risk of getting others.
Furthermore, some of the most at risk people are those who:
- are vulnerable or have relatively difficult living conditions (mental illness, intellectual disability, homelessness, sex workers, etc.)
- live in overpopulated areas (prison setting, Aboriginal communities, youth centres, etc.)
- are involved in substance abuse such as alcohol and drugs
- inject drugs
- share syringes
- live in regions of the world where an infection is endemic (e.g., HIV in Africa)
HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST STIs?
The best way to prevent the spread of STIs is to use a condom during each sexual encounter. In fact, this is the only contraception method that protects against both pregnancy and STIs. There are several types of condoms available, and it is up to both partners to choose the one they prefer. The female condom is also an option worth considering.
All contact with the genitals, even with the mouth, must be protected. It is important to use condoms properly to ensure effective protection. Your pharmacist can help you choose the type of condom that best suits your needs and inform you about its optimal and safe use.
A FEW TIPS ON PREVENTION
Several other measures can help prevent the spread of STIs:
- regularly ask your doctor for a screening test, especially before ceasing to use a condom with a stable partner
- find out about STI symptoms and see a doctor if you have any doubts
- choose a single sexual partner
- avoid partners who are at risk or sexual networking
- consider receiving vaccines against viruses such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and the human papilloma virus (HPV)
- do not share syringes with other individuals
HOW IS AN STI TREATED?
In some cases, a curative treatment can be provided to a person who has received an STI diagnosis. However, there is no curative treatment at this time for STIs caused by a virus, such as genital herpes or HIV. The treatment for these types of conditions has a palliative or suppressive goal.
The treatment of STIs depends on several factors, especially on the type of infection involved. If you have contracted an STI, make sure you understand what it is you have. It is important that you know exactly what to do and what options are available to you, in order to maintain your health and that of your partner(s).
As medication and health experts, pharmacists can be a valuable resource in terms of advice and information. They are knowledgeable about sexual health, including STIs and their treatment. They can also inform you about contraceptive methods and preventive measures for STIs. For more sensitive issues, you can always ask to see the pharmacist in the consultation room.
Pharmacists are always there to help when it comes to your health, so don’t hesitate to consult them.