Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

What are STIs?
STIs are infections caused by exposure to infectious body fluids. The term is used to describe fungal, bacterial, viral and blood-borne infections which are typically transmitted through sexual activity. However, an STI can also spread through the sharing of injecting equipment, contaminated tattooing equipment or other exposure to body fluid.

STIs are fairly common, with 1 in 6 Australians expected to have had a notifiable STI in their lifetime. So regular STI testing (even when you have no symptoms) is important to help identify these infections and prevent further spreading. Knowing what the risk factors and symptoms are can help you know when you should get tested.

STI Risk Factors

Anyone who is sexually active can contract an STI. What may increase your risk, are your sexual activities and lifestyle or those of your sexual partner. Risk factors which may increase your chances of being exposed to an STI include:

  • Unprotected sex.
  • Having multiple sexual partners.
  • Casual sexual partners.
  • Your sexual partner having multiple sexual partners.
  • Sharing injecting equipment.
  • Using contaminated tattoo equipment.

Some countries outside of Australia have higher rates of STIs. So sexual partners in or from these countries may also present a greater risk to you.
If you identify with any of the risk factors you may want to discuss your risk and STI testing with a medical provider.

Signs and Symptoms of STIs

Not everyone will experience symptoms when they have an STI. Many people are asymptomatic and have no idea they are infectious. So, if you or your sexual partner do experience any of these STI symptoms, both of you should consider getting an STI Check.
Symptoms can include any one or a combination of the following:

  • Itching around the genitals area.
  • A burning feeling while urinating.
  • Feeling a constant need to urinate.
  • An unusual smell or genital discharge.
  • Sores/blisters on or around the genital area.
  • Unusual bleeding, pain or pelvic cramping (during or after intercourse).
  • Swollen or tender testicles.

It’s important to remember that even if neither of you have symptoms, one or both of you could still have an STI. Getting a sexual health check before starting a new intimate relationship can offer both you and your partner the best chance to avoid spreading an STI to each other.

If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to an STI, or would like some peace of mind, visit one of our discreet sexual health clinics in Brisbane for a sexual health check and STI testing.

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What should I know about STIs?
  • STIs can affect anyone of any age, including seniors,
  • Symptoms can resemble urinary tract infections,
  • Not everyone will experience symptoms,
  • Some STIs (including cold sores, HIV and chlamydia) can be passed on through kissing and oral sex,
  • Untreated STIs can cause infertility,
  • Pregnancy and birth can be complicated by STIs,
  • STIs can cause chronic pain and physical limitations (impotence),
How do you test for STIs?

There are 3 types of tests that a doctor can use to test for STIs. These include:

  • Urine Samples – commonly used
  • Blood Tests – used where there is an increased risk of blood borne infection
  • Swab Samples – used for cervical screening or when discharge or sores are present

Physical examinations are not always needed. If there is nothing to see (such as sores, lumps or warts) and no need for a swab sample to be taken, then you may not need a physical examination.
The doctor will determine what tests are needed after discussing your lifestyle and risks with you.

Where can you get an STI check?

Sexual health clinics or practitioners (including GPs) with an interest in sexual and reproductive health will all offer sexual health checks.

If you are wanting to visit a GP clinic for more discretion we have listed the practitioners available at our clinics on the sexual health clinics page.

Who do I have tell if I have an STI?

If you are diagnosed with an STI you will need to tell your sexual partner/s. Doing this allows your partner to seek treatment and helps prevent the STI from continuing to spread to others, or back to you.
Fortunately, there are now websites that make this easier and far less awkward than a phone call. You can use these websites to send an anonymous message to your partner/s informing them to get tested themselves.

Additionally, because STIs are highly contagious they are classed as Notifiable Communicable Diseases. This means that the pathology laboratory will report positive results to Queensland Health and other health organisations. To protect your privacy, the results are de-identified and reported as statics. You can learn more about notifiable conditions and laws surrounding notification on the Queensland Health website.

When should you get an STI Test?

It’s quite common to experience no symptoms when you have an STI. So, regular testing is the best way to stay safe. How regular that testing is will depend on your lifestyle and sexual activities. Your doctor can help you determine a good testing routine that suits you.
Some good indicators that it’s time to consider an STI Check includes:

  • When you do experience symptoms (including urinary tract symptoms),
  • When your sexual partner has symptoms or is diagnosed with an STI,
  • When you are starting a new sexual relationship,
  • When you or your partner have multiple sexual partners,
  • After a casual hookup (especially if no protection was used),
How long do STI test results take to get back?

Most STI test results are returned to the doctor within 24-48 hours. *Weekends and public holidays can affect the timeframe.

You will be advised to abstain from sexual activity until your results are returned. Further advice will be given along with your test results. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, your doctor may be able to help alleviate symptoms until your results are returned.

If the result is positive for a STI, the doctor will reach out to you as quickly as possible, so you can begin treatment or management of the condition.

Can STIs be treated?

Yes, there are treatment and management options available for people with a Sexually Transmitted Infection. The options available will depend on the STI detected. As some STIs are recurring or life-long conditions, treatment may also be ongoing for long-term management. Treatments can include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Topical creams
  • Penicillin injections
  • Antiretroviral drugs

If STIs are not treated they can lead to long term health issues including infertility, impotence and chronic pain. You can also continue to spread the STI to your sexual partners.

How can you avoid STIs?

Other than abstaining from sexual activity; you can help protect yourself and your sexual partner from STIs by using a condom or other barrier protection during sexual activity. The barrier helps prevent transmission by limiting direct contact with skin and fluid. Of course this only works where the barrier covers.
So, to be sure that you are not spreading STIs to your sexual partner/s, and that they won’t spread anything to you, you both need a sexual health check. It’s the only way to know for sure that your risk is low.

What is PrEP and PEP?

PrEP and PEP are pre and post exposure medications aimed at preventing HIV infections. These medications are not suitable for everyone. Speak to a prescribing practitioner to see if it’s right for you.

PrEP - Pre Exposure

The pre-exposure PrEP is a daily medication intended to be taken before any exposure to HIV. It’s designed to be used by individuals who have an increased risk of being exposed to HIV and is considered very effective when taken correctly. This medication is subsidised on the Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme (PBS) and can be obtained with a prescription. While side effects are generally rare, people with high blood pressure or diabetes may be at increased risk of liver and kidney problems and would require regular monitoring.

> Periodic or on-demand dosing should be discussed with your prescribing practitioner.
> This medication does not protect against other STIs.
> Not all medical practitioners can prescribe this medication.

For more information on PrEP, visit the Ending HIV website.

PEP - Post Exposure

PEP is a post exposure medication aimed at preventing HIV infection following possible exposure. It does not prevent 100% of HIV infections, but can significantly reduce the risk of getting HIV if you have been exposed.
For optimal results it needs to be taken as early as possible (within 72 hours) of possible exposure. This medication is prescribed as a precaution, often after sexual assaults or assaults with exchange of body fluids. You may also consider it following a drug or alcohol induced episode or black out.

For more information on PEP, visit the PEP Info website.

Find out if PrEP and PEP could be right for you. Book a consult to discuss it with our provider.

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