Let me tell you a true story about Kwame, a 27-year-old man & Korkor, a 25-year-old woman who live in Accra……….
Kwame: Hey, Korkor. There’s something I wanted to talk to you about & it’s kind of awkward…
Korkor: What’s up? It can’t be as bad as all that, I promise i won’t be upset.
Kwame: When I pee lately, it hurts a lot. I think I might have an STI.
Korkor: Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that. You okay?
Kwame: Yeah, I’m fine. I went to the pharmacy for medication and everything, but I wanted to talk to you about it because we’ve been intimate. The pharmacist also said you may have to get tested & take medication as well.
Korkor: Okay, thanks for telling me. I appreciate your honesty.
Kwame: Of course. I want to make sure we’re both taking care of ourselves and each other.
Korkor: Thank you for being responsible and bringing this up. Let’s get tested together and make sure we’re both healthy.
Kwame: Sounds like a plan.
What a lovely scenario! In an ideal world, when two people are in a relationship and one notices symptoms, the conversation goes something like what you just read. However, in the real world STI’s arent so easily discussed. Usually, there’s a lot of shouting, accusations being flung left and right and if you’re especially unlucky, the odd plate being thrown at your head. Truth is, people tend to fear what they don’t know. My job today is to empower you by providing comprehensive education about this.
First things first, what’s the difference between a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and a sexually transmitted disease(STD)? It’s important to recognize that people use the terms interchangeably, but most of the time are referring to the same thing i.e Infections that are passed from one person to the other during sex. An infection happens when a foreign body enters and your immune system kicks in to fight it. A disease occurs when the infection produces symptoms, damages parts of your body and leads to illness. Please remember:
- STIs may not always present with symptoms.
- They can usually be treated before they cause long term damage to your body.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s discuss some popular STIs. Gonorrhea is the second most reported STI, caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Since it’s not commonly spoken about in the community, there’s a lot of stigma associated with the condition. Surprisingly, men may be asymptomatic, even though it affects both men and women. Gonorrhea is spread through ALL types of unprotected sex including vaginal, anal and oral sex. Symptoms that are common to both sexes: you may experience smelly discharge from their genitals, as well as inflammation of the urethra. Urination may be both painful and more frequent than normal for both sexes, and sore throats are also reported, especially in cases where transmission is through oral sex. Some men may also have swollen testicles. Women on the other hand will also experience abdominal pain, and bleeding in between periods.
Next, let’s discuss chlamydia. Chlamydia is the most common cause of non-gonococcal urethritis and is usually asymptomatic. Many cases will therefore be unreported and untreated. Remember seeing “Accra small o” every week on ghana twitter? The rate of transmission of sexual infection in adolescents is high due to multiple partners and lack of protection. One way to differentiate chlamydia and gonorrhea is the discharge produced. The discharge associated with gonorrhea has an offensive smell but chlamydia is scanty and has a milky white color. Women may also have a red cervix that bleeds easily; however, this will only be seen on examination.
Please remember that these are easily treated. Visit your nearest hospital or pharmacy, and if necessary do the prerequisite labs. Most treatment courses should be done within 7-10 days but ensure you and your partner take the entire course of antibiotics (even when you feel better). Abstinence is definitely better than treatment, however if you have multiple partners, always use a condom. The long term effects of untreated STIs are unpleasant and can even affect fertility in the future, so please ensure you’re safe no matter what you do.
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