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STI – at risk

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 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 gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B. You may have no symptoms from some of 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 between 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 timing. If you have one partner and they have an STI that has been treated, avoid sex or use condoms until 7 days after you have both been treated.

Common STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, will respond to a short course of antibiotics, as they are bacterial infections. Genital herpes caused by the HSV virus are viral, therefore antivirals only stop the spread of 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 during 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 US from sub-Saharan Africa, and this is whether you had vaginal or anal sex or are sharing drug-using 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 contraception – but you need to do this as soon as possible, and within 5 days, for this to be effective.

Am I fit for work?

Depending on your concerns, you should prioritize 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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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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