A friend once told me of her cousin who had a yeast infection. The doctor told her she could have picked it up from the bathroom, in this case, probably the hostel bathrooms. The girl was apparently more embarrassed than afraid. She locked herself up in her room all day. Although we laughed this off, I wondered what this girl would have done incase she was ever diagnosed with an STD. She would most likely keep this as her little secret, and even fear to seek medical help.
The question of whether to tell your partner when you found out that you have an STD remains one of those things that will always come with divergent views.
“I would not tell her, for fear that I might be rejected, but of course, to protect her I would find a way to use a condom if I must have sex, or stay away from her to avoid any sexual contact that could expose her to infection,” Godfrey Ddumba, a fisherman who dropped out of school in Primary Four, says. His view is not different from Jane Nalugo, a 28-year-old banker, who says she would seek medical attention secretly, because she doesn’t want her partner to think that she has been unfaithful, or careless – having unprotected sex.
Mary Nakalyowa, a hair stylist, however, thinks otherwise. “It depends on the relationship I have with the other person. If I love him and we are in a long-term relationship, I would tell him but if I don’t love him, I wouldn’t bother telling him.”
What are Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases that spread from person to person through intimate contact. STDs can affect males and females of all ages and backgrounds, as long as you have sex.
Dr Patrick Musinguzi, the deputy head of the STD/STI and Skin Clinic at Mulago hospital, says STDs are more than just an embarrassment. “They are a serious health problem. If untreated, some STDs can cause permanent damage, such as infertility – the inability to have a baby and even death, in the case of HIV/Aids.”
How STDs spread
One reason STDs spread is because people think they can only be infected if they have sexual intercourse. That’s wrong. A person can get contract herpes or genital warts through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area or sore, according to Dr JB Muganzi, a clinician at Mulago hospital.
“Another myth about STDs is that you can’t get it through oral or anal sex. That’s also wrong because the viruses or bacteria that cause STDs can enter the body through tiny cuts or tears in the mouth and anus, as well as the genitals,” he says.
He adds that STDs also spread easily “because you can’t tell whether someone has an infection. In fact, some people with STDs don’t even know that they have them. These people are in danger of passing an infection to their sex partners without even realising it.”
One in every two sexually active young people will get an STD by the age of 25, experts say. Fortunately, most STDs are curable, and all are treatable, says Dr Muganzi.
So, if you found out about an infection, why not treat it secretly? According to Dr Musinguzi, telling your partner about it is the only way the cycle of an STD can be broken.
“When only one person is treated, the other may re-introduce the disease. That’s why when someone has an STD, we counsel them and ask them to bring their partner for treatment too.”
He says through years of practice and dealing with STD patients, many people don’t want to open up to their partners for fear of being judged. So he says the treatment package includes counselling and teachings on how to convince the other partner to undergo full treatment.
“When dealing with these diseases, it is important that you tell the truth so that treatment begins with the root cause. The success of treatment depends on treating all the contact persons.”
While opening up is usually a difficult decision to make, Dr Musinguzi says it makes the treatment and adherence to treatment easier. He also says when treatment is done for a couple rather than one partner, they also get an opportunity to test for other STDs.
He appeals to individuals to always endeavour to complete the treatment dose prescribed, as failure to could result into a drug-resistant STD that is difficult and expensive to treat.
“They should also abstain for the period while on treatment, and if they must have sex, it should be done using a condom,” he says, urging that couples should go for another test after treatment to confirm whether they are free from the disease.
Gonorrhea is a bacterium. According to Dr Musinguzi, it can grow easily in warm, moist areas of the reproductive tract, including the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes, in women, and in the urethra in women and men. It can also grow in the mouth, throat, eyes, and anus. People get gonorrhea by having sex with someone who has the disease; anal, vaginal or oral. Gonorrhea can also be spread from an untreated mother to her baby during childbirth. The highest reported rates of infection are among sexually active teenagers and young adults.
Some men with gonorrhea may have no symptoms at all. However, common symptoms in men include a burning sensation when urinating or a white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis - one to 14 days after infection or swollen testicles. Experts say most women with gonorrhea do not have any symptoms or if they do, they are often mild and can be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection; painful or burning sensation when urinating, increased smelly vaginal discharge, or vaginal bleeding between periods. Untreated gonorrhea can damage the fallopian tubes, affecting child birth and ectopic pregnancy. In men, it can cause epididymitis, which may prevent a man from being able to father children. It also increases a person’s risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV.
This is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacterium. Symptoms of Chlamydia, if there are any, are common to many STDs: discharge from penis or vagina, abnormal vaginal discharge, burning during urination, and bleeding in between periods. This makes Chlamydia especially difficult to catch. If left untreated, it can lead to infertility and highly dangerous ectopic pregnancy. The good news is, it’s easily treated with antibiotics.
This is a common STI that is caused by infection with a protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. It affects both women and men, but symptoms are more common in women.
A viral infection of the genital areas, it can also infect the mouth and lips. At least 50 million people are already infected with herpes, or about one in six people. Most people have no symptoms, but herpes causes cold sores and fever blisters in or around the mouth as well as genital sores or blisters. A herpes outbreak can start as red bumps and then turn into painful blisters or sores. It can be transmitted through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. It can also be passed through skin-to-skin sexual contact, kissing, and rarely, from mother to child during childbirth. Experts say herpes sores can be treated with topical creams and ointments or antiviral prescription medicine, although the disease is incurable, and can be transmitted even when there are no sores present.
HUMAN PAPILLOMAVIRUS (HPV)
This is the most common STI with more than 40 different strands. In 90 per cent of cases, the body’s immune system clears the infection naturally within two years, although some cases may not be cleared and can lead to genital warts – bumps around the genitals or cervical cancer and other HPV related cancers.
Like Gonorrhea, syphilis is also caused by a bacterium and can cause long-term complications or death if not adequately treated, according to experts. Signs and symptoms of syphilis include a firm, round, small and painless sore on the genitals, anus, or mouth, or a rash on the body, especially on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.
Syphilis is transmitted from person to person by direct contact with syphilis sores. Sores occur mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. Sores also can occur on the lips and in the mouth. The disease can also be transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact and pregnant women with the disease can pass it to their unborn children.