STIs: WHAT HAPPENS IF THEY ARE LEFT UNTREATED?
Will an STI go away on its own? This question doesn’t have an easy answer as STIs can be very different in nature.
Some viral STIs remain with you forever, like herpes and HIV, although they can be managed. Others, such as hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV), are preventable through vaccines, but cannot be cured.
It’s also possible for the immune system to defeat hepatitis B virus and HPV — but in some cases, these viruses are able to settle in the body for a long time, causing chronic infections that can endure for life and even lead to cancer. Left untreated, syphilis can kill, and gonorrhea can cause infertility.
Non-viral bacterial STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, can be cured. However, they often have no symptoms, or symptoms can come and go, giving the impression that an infection has gone while it has not.
This all means that you can’t know your STI status without getting tested as you can’t self-diagnose an STI based on possible symptoms and then assume the infection went away when symptoms subside. With some of the worst STI cases there isn’t a progression of symptoms; the disease could go from symptomless to life-threatening with nothing in between. If you are unaware that you have an STI you will likely be infecting others with it.
That’s why it important to get tested as this can uncover a problem before it causes too much havoc and clear the way for treatment. Getting treated is not only good for your health but will also allow you to avoid passing on the STI to your partner/s.
What is it: HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.
Initial symptoms: In the weeks following infection, HIV may cause fever, sore throat, fatigue, and/or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.
If left untreated: The initial symptoms often subside after infection — even for years while the virus slowly chips away at your immune system. if left untreated, HIV will progress to a stage of infection called AIDS. This is when the immune system has been compromised, and the body is less able to defend itself against potentially life-threatening infections. People that live with untreated HIV will usually see AIDS develop within 2-10 years and will then have a life expectancy of around 3 years unless they get treatment with ARVs.
Treatment: Can be effectively treated with ARVs (Antiretrovirals) but not cured.
GONORRHOEA AND CHLAMYDIA
What they are: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) caused by bacteria and spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Initial symptoms: Most commonly an inflammation of the urethra, which can result in a painful, burning feeling when you pee. But you can have either one or have no symptoms at all.
If left untreated: These STIs can lead to more serious infections around the testes. Gonorrhoea can also spread throughout the body where it can infect the joints, causing damage and pain within weeks of infection.
You can also pass the infections on to sexual partners. In rare cases, both can potentially lead to infertility as well.
Treatment: Can be treated with antibiotics.
GENITAL OR ANAL WARTS (HPV)
What it is: HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection. There is no cure for the virus (HPV) itself, but there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause, such as genital warts.Genital HPV spreads through skin-to-skin contact during sex. You can get infected in the:
- groin and thighs
- tongue and top of the mouth
Initial symptoms: Often, none. May develop into small or large, flat or raised, or cauliflower-shaped warts. They might appear as a bump or group of bumps in the area surrounding the penis, anus, or genitals. Most of the time, warts do not often hurt but can be unsightly. The area where warts can be very painful is on the anus.
If left untreated: In most cases, HPV goes away on its own within two years without health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. The STI can cause oral and penile cancers in men.
Treatment: There is no treatment for HPV itself, but genital warts can be treated or removed if they’re bothersome. Using condoms can lower your chances of getting infected or of spreading the disease.
What it is: Two types of viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex, as well as through contact with a herpes sore or with the saliva or genital secretions of someone with the infection.There is no cure for genital herpes. However, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks.
Initial symptoms: Most people infected with HSV-1 have no idea that they have herpes. The immune system can handle the virus so that it doesn’t result in cold sores. With HSV-2, the most common symptom is genital sores, though only a fraction of infected people have symptoms.
If left untreated: Generally speaking, herpes causes more embarrassment than serious health concerns. But if you’re suffering from herpes outbreaks and not treating them, they can continue or get worse. The bigger issue with not treating outbreaks is that you could pass the virus along to a partner.
Treatment: There is no cure for herpes, but people with recurrent outbreaks — cold sores or genital ones — can benefit from anti-virals, which can help lessen the outbreaks’ severity. When taken daily, these meds can also lower the likelihood that you’ll pass herpes onto a sexual partner.
What it is: Hepatitis B is caused by a virus and can be sexually transmitted through blood or bodily fluids. While the symptoms of hepatitis B can be flu-like at first, the disease should be taken very seriously because it affects the liver. Symptoms can take up to six months to develop and the disease often goes undetected until it has become severe.
If left untreated:
- Jaundice, which is a condition in which the skin, whites of the eyes and mucous membranes turn yellow because of a high level of bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment.
- Mild to severe liver infection, fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer, and even death.
Treatment: Symptoms can be treated and managed, but there is no cure for hepatitis B, however, more than 90% of healthy adults who contract the virus will recover naturally from it within the first year.
What it is: Hepatitis C is the most serious of the hepatitis infections and one of the top causes of adult liver transplants. With many individuals, there are no symptoms of hepatitis C present for years until the infection has progressed to a very severe state. When symptoms finally do occur, they can be very similar to other conditions, such as the flu.
If left untreated: Hepatitis C can cause jaundice, cirrhosis, cancer, and end-stage disease of the liver. Hepatitis C can also cause confusion, sleepiness, and disorientation due to toxin build-up in the brain caused by liver cirrhosis, as well as stroke or heart attack, kidney failure, type-2 diabetes, gallstones, thyroid diseases, hypertension, and even death.
Treatment: There is not currently a vaccine for hepatitis C. However, new and improved treatments are available from private doctors that can clear hepatitis C for many individuals.
Getting tested regularly for STIs is the best way to protect yourself and your partners. EMH offers free STI testing/screening and treatment to gay, bi, and other MSM. DM or call or WhatsApp us on 082 607 1686.