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STI – Am I at risk?

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

You may have been put at risk of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) if you have had unprotected sex, the condom broke, split or slipped off during sex, or you have been told a partner has an STI.

STIs include gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B. You may have no symptoms from these, or symptoms may take weeks or months to show.

It’s best to get this checked out, and the best place is to attend a Sexual Health Clinic. Look online for services near you, and know that it’s all confidential.

If a partner has said they have an STI, you need to get treated immediately and avoid sex until treated, otherwise, you can pass it back and forth to each other. Again, this is best done at a Sexual Health Clinic.

Unprotected sex also leaves women at risk of pregnancy. You can buy a pregnancy test, and it can take up to 3 weeks after unprotected sex for any pregnancy test to turn positive.

Doctor’s advice

Is it contagious?

STIs are contagious, so if you have more than one partner, avoid sex until you have been checked and possibly treated – the clinic can advise you on timings. If you have one partner and he/she has an STI that has been treated, avoid sex or use condoms until 7 days after you have both been treated.

Treatment for common STIs – chlamydia and gonorrhoea – respond to a short course of antibiotics, as they are bacterial infections. Whereas genital herpes caused by the HSV virus are viral, therefore antivirals only stop the spread to the infection, but does not help treat.

With more than one partner, people worry about when or from whom they got an STI. The answer is, it’s difficult to say – infections can sit without detection for weeks to months. Your current partner(s) and anyone a certain time frame (depending on the infection you may test positive for) will require treatment, even if they have no symptoms. And you can get the same STI again.

If you think you have been exposed to HIV, you should attend a Sexual Health Clinic as soon as possible, They may consider you for post-exposure prophylaxis, (PEP), a combination of drugs that reduces your risk of contracting HIV. High-risk categories involve men who have sex with men, IV drug use, immigrants to the UK from sub-Saharan Africa, and this is whether you had vaginal or anal sex or are sharing drug-taking equipment.

The risk of hepatitis B requires careful assessment, as some partners are from high-risk categories depending on their place of birth and lifestyle factors such as intravenous drug use. This is a highly contagious viral infection, and a Sexual Health Clinic will help determine your risk.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Make an appointment with your Sexual Health Clinic (or doctor, if they offer these services), who can test you for STIs. For men, this will involve a urine test and blood test, for women it’s a self-taken vaginal swab and a blood test. A pregnancy test involves a urine sample, but you can buy these and do this at home.

If you think you have been exposed to HIV from the high-risk categories above, you should attend a Sexual Health Clinic as soon as possible, to be assessed for PEP – the sooner this is taken (within 3 days), the more effective it will be.

If you think you have been at risk of pregnancy and would not wish to keep it, you can be assessed for emergency contraceptionbut you need to do this as soon as possible, and within 5 days, for this to be effective.

Pharmacist recommended products

Am I fit for work?

Depending on your concerns, you should prioritise visiting the Sexual Health Clinic as soon as possible, but you are not medically unwell so you can still go to work.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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