How Can One Limit the Spread of STIs?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that are spread through sexual activity. As STI/STD Awareness Month is observed every April, it is a good time to learn about or brush up on how one can limit the spread of STIs.
Using a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex can help reduce the risk of STI transmission. Although they are extremely beneficial when used correctly, condoms are still not 100% effective at eliminating the risk of STI transmission, so keep this in mind when having sex with another person. Check out this article for information on the different types of condoms and how to use them properly.
It is a good practice to be screened for STIs and ask your sexual partners to do so as well before having sex with each other for the first time. In this way, you can identify and treat any asymptomatic (symptomless) STIs and ensure that you do not spread them to one another. Importantly, STI screening tests have some limitations, and it is not possible to screen for all STIs. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend screening for herpes unless a person has an active outbreak because the current blood test for herpes has a possibility of a wrong test result.
While completely abstaining from sex may not be a practical long-term STI prevention strategy for most people, individuals should abstain from sex during periods of suspected or confirmed infection with an STI. Antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial STIs, and once you have successfully treated the STI you can safely resume having sex.
Vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent hepatitis B and HPV. It is recommended that all children between the ages of 11 and 12 years (or as young as 9 years to as old as 26 years) be vaccinated for HPV. Talk to your health care provider about being vaccinated for HPV and hepatitis B if you were not vaccinated when you were younger.
PrEP and PEP
PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, and it is a medication that a person who is at risk of HIV infection can take to lower their risk. When taken consistently every day, PrEP can lower a person’s risk of contracting HIV during sex by 99%.
On the other hand, PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is a medication that is used as an emergency measure after a person has potentially been exposed to HIV through unprotected sex or injection drug use. PEP must be started within 72 hours of possible exposure to HIV.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2022, July 11). Genital Herpes Screening FAQ. https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/default.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2023, February 22). How You Can Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/screening.htm
- HIVinfo.NIH.gov. (2021, August 19). Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). https://hivinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv/fact-sheets/post-exposure-prophylaxis-pep
- HIVinfo.NIH.gov. (2021, August 10). Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). https://hivinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv/fact-sheets/pre-exposure-prophylaxis-prep