A-Z

Sexual Health (young people)

STIs: treatments

Sexually transmitted infections can be broken down into three main types: bacterial, parasitic and viral. All three types of infections occur in heterosexual (opposite gender) or homosexual (same gender) sexual relationships. It is important to remember that condoms protect against most sexually transmitted infection.

Bacterial and parasitic infections can be cured. STIs that are caused by bacteria include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Trichomonas vaginalis is a form of parasitic infection.

Viral infections can only be treated but not completely cured. Viral sexually transmitted infections include herpes, hepatitis B, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and human papillomaviruses (HPVs). HPV is a very common virus with over 100 different strains.

There are two types of HPV vaccine both of which provide protection against two high risk types of HPV (types 16 and 18) that cause 70% of all cervical cancers. Women need to be vaccinated before they come into contact with the virus. The virus is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, usually by sexual activity.

"Studies have already shown that the vaccine protects against HPV infection for around 10 years, although experts expect protection to be for much longer" - NHS Choices September 2014.

In September 2012 the NHS switched to Gardasil vaccine which also protects against the types of HPV that cause 90% of genital warts.

Find out more about young women's experiences of the HPV vaccine.

Below is an account of the STIs infections and treatment experiences of the young people we talked to.

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection passed on through unprotected sex, and most common among women in their teens and men in their twenties. It is often symptomless, and therefore often not possible to know who infected whom.

For example a woman could have had chlamydia without knowing it for a long time and only realise that she is infected after her present boyfriend develops symptoms, goes for treatment and names her as a contact. One woman was diagnosed when she went to the GUM to be treated for genital warts.

 

Explains that she discovered she had Chlamydia only because she went for a check up for something...

Explains that she discovered she had Chlamydia only because she went for a check up for something...

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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I had Chlamydia which I didn't know about and I had warts and that's the reason I went in. I caught genital warts from somebody.

How old were you?

I was seventeen and I went in and they did a full screen and I had Chlamydia as well, it must have been from the same guy so I was very peeved to say the least.

You went because you discovered you had warts, so there was something there?

They were itching so I thought oh okay, and I didn't really want to go to my GP because that was somebody that I knew too well I think, so I found out that there was a place in the next town that I could go and I did it myself, I hopped on a bus and went. 

I had to take some time off school so... there was one friend that I told and she had a car and she sometimes dropped me off because I had to go back a couple of times.

And did you have anything at all that could have been associated with Chlamydia?

No.

So was it the genital warts that'?

That was the reason I went in.

But you have just had Chlamydia?

They did the full screening and they said 'oh something else has come up now' and I didn't even know about it, I'd never even heard of chlamydia and they gave me a leaflet and everything and I thought well it's a good thing I did have something with symptoms.

So in a way you were lucky?

Yeah, I do count myself as lucky because it was something mild and it's something you know, that doesn't affect me now, but it could have been.

But they sorted out Chlamydia?

Yeah, they did a full screening.

Okay and they gave you the antibiotics?

Yeah, and that cleared it up straight away. I felt like I'd been an idiot and it was just stupid of me for being lax you know, and since I've made sure that you know, there's absolutely no contact before the condom went on you know because you think well, the most important thing is to make sure that he doesn't ejaculate you know what I mean, and you can have as much contact then, and that's something I think that I wasn't really aware of as much, I was more concerned about not getting pregnant, you know at that stage, and then after that things changed.

The common treatment for chlamydia is a course of antibiotics. The two most commonly prescribed treatments are: Azithromycin (single dose) and Doxycycline (longer course). Besides treatment, health professionals will also explain not to have any sex (oral, vaginal, anal or use sex toys) until seven days after completing treatment. If left untreated it could develop into pelvic inflammatory disease.

 

Explains what happened next after her Chlamydia test came back positive.

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Explains what happened next after her Chlamydia test came back positive.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 20
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So all of my other results came back negative apart from the Chlamydia and then in the same day I booked an appointment, having found out my results, booked an appointment for that afternoon, went in, went to he was some form of health advisor, who similar sort of scenario. You waited in waiting room, get called in. And he went through my sort of history, then sort of talked me through everything and yeah, and then I got the sort of four tablets that I took then and there and within a week you’re clear of it so.
 
And did you need to have another test afterwards?
 
No, you don’t because it’s sort of ninety nine point nine per cent effective provided you take it the way you’re meant to take it. Sort of thing. Although they do offer you a test to check that you’re clear but they advise that you don’t have that until six weeks afterwards because of something to do with the dying bacteria can still be in your system sort of thing. Yeah, but he was incredibly helpful and also he talked through the partners that you’ve had over the last six months and asks you if you’re going to contact them. And if you’re not, then they offer a service where they can sort of ring them up for you and you’re name will never get mentioned and they’ll simply say, “Someone that you’ve been with has sort of been found to have Chlamydia. We advise that you come in for a test.” Sort of thing so yeah, they were incredibly helpful and it was good [laughs].
 
Okay, and do you mind telling me how did you feel when you found out?
 
Absolutely horrendous [laughs]. Because I’ve well, I personally think I’ve been pretty sensible in terms of sex and protected sex. And yeah, it wasn’t a good feeling at all but so that feeling lasted for that day and in that day I got in contact with the person that I’d been with, in the last six months sort of thing. And then, having been to the health advisor, I knew it was sort of all over so it, although it’s horrible, it didn’t last too long and now I can joke about it, kind of [laughs].
 
So you took an antibiotic.
 
Yes.
 
How long? For a week.
 
No, it’s four fairly sizeable tablets that you sort of swallow then and there in the room with the health advisor.
 
Really.
 
Yeah, and that’s it and it just it’s sort of still in your system for that week and then after the weeks over you’re clear, sort of thing.
 
Okay. So you swallow these sort of big tablets.
 
Yes.
 
Whole.
 
Just four of them right then and there.
 
So then that’s it.
 
And that’s it.
 
Because the antibiotic.
 
Yeah.
 
Okay.
 
And that’s it.
 
It’s very straight forward then.
 
Yeah, very, very so much easier than I sort of ever imagined it could have been [laughs] sort of thing so, yeah.
 
Okay.
 
No, it’s not as disastrous as you might think, [laughs] which is quite good.
 
Did you know much about the treatment or?
 
I didn’t but someone, I can’t remember who, had sort of said, “Well, it’s only a few pil
 

Explains the medication she was told to take and the instructions she received from doctors.

Explains the medication she was told to take and the instructions she received from doctors.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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What treatment did you receive?

I can't remember what the tablets were called but they gave me two forms of tablets.  The first time they gave me normal tablets there was ones that I had to take for two weeks and then ones I had to take for a week to clean up the infection. I weren't allowed to have any intercourse at all in that time and then the second set that I received when I was pregnant was special pregnancy ones to stop the baby, cause if you have a STD when you are pregnant it could make you miscarry and give you stillbirth and problems during your pregnancy and things like that, and you are given special tablets and that to take.

For how long did you have to take those?

Two weeks.

Did you have any ill effect?

No, you just weren't allowed to drink alcohol or be in direct sunlight or anything like that.

And how many months pregnant were you?

Six weeks, I was six weeks when I found out, when I found out the second time, when I got Chlamydia that I was pregnant, and then I had to go to the clinic to make sure I hadn't caught anything again and I did.

Genital warts are a particular type of HPV infection that can affect men and women, gay and straight. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts (virus types 6 and 11) are not the same as the types that can cause cancers. The virus lives in the skin and is usually passed on by skin contact. The virus can also be passed on when no warts are on the skin. Weeks or months after infection small growths appear on their own or in groups. Treatment is usually with a cream applied twice a day. It can take a long time to make them go away. If the cream is not effective they can be removed by freezing or scraping. One woman said that she had several treatments, but the warts kept reappearing. She was initially treated in a rural hospital in another country before attending a GUM clinic in the UK.

Genital herpes is one of the most common STIs with more than 20,000 cases diagnosed in the UK every year. Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Type 2 or HSV-2 causes genital herpes. The infectious stage of the illness is when painful sores or blisters appear in the genital areas or in the buttocks, and the blisters burst, releasing fluids. At this stage, genital herpes is easily transmitted to another person during sexual intercourse. During this active infection phase, the person usually feels feverish, unwell and exhausted. Treatment consists of antiviral drugs, taken as tablets that will reduce the severity of an attack. There is not yet a cure. After the initial attack has passed people may go months before a further outbreak. Some people who suffer from frequent attacks take low dose antiviral medication to prevent them. One young woman who contracted genital herpes at the age of sixteen describes her treatment. The same woman explains that she now takes vitamin supplements which she believes help to prevent outbreaks.

 

Talks about her clinic treatment for genital herpes. Played by an actor.

Talks about her clinic treatment for genital herpes. Played by an actor.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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And did they suggest any treatment at the time?

They gave me a numbing gel, and things like' I remember the nurse said it would be your best friend for the next five days. I was thinking I needed it a whole two weeks ago. The pain went - it you know didn't bother me any more and they just gave me the numbing gel and Zovirax to take, and that was it. Like thank you very much, and that was it.

Was the Zovirax by mouth?

Yes, yes. I can't remember how many times I took it a day, but I didn't do the treatment for too long because it was in the last stages of the blister clearing up so, it wasn't - it wasn't that bad. God I hope I don't make it sound really scary, this thing, because it's not. The first outbreak's always the worst. It's always the most rememberable one. 

 

Says she prefers to take vitamin supplements for prevention rather than use conventional...

Says she prefers to take vitamin supplements for prevention rather than use conventional...

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Oh no, I don't take Zovirax or any of that. I do alternative medicine. So I have my cream, which I get from the organisation, where I work - I work in a health shop, so I get my alternative stuff, like lysine and vitamin C, and they're a lot more healthy and they work a lot better than the other drugs. I think anyway.

Where I work I work in the actual bookshop, and it's all on health, so I read. Vitamin C, zinc and Lysine they've shown to be the best stuff to prevent it, and when it does come, to help shorten the outbreak. And I used to have my outbreak maybe for about a week and a half, but now when I take it, sometimes if I thought, "Oh God it's coming on", then I can stop it by taking about 3000mg of Lysine. And my outbreaks now, when they do come, are a lot shorter. Sometimes about four or five days, so '

What was the drug you said the clinic gave you in the first place?

Zovirax.

That was a drug to take by mouth?

Yes. And I think that's the one you can take every single day to suppress it, but I don't believe in suppressing it. I believe in preventing it and trying to - it's like you prevent it, and then if you, if you in your mind you're completely at ease with it, I think that it won't come and bother you. I'm a very firm believer that with me, food don't trigger it, it's stress.

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated January 2016.

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