How do you know you’ve got an STI? It’s a question our GMI healthtrainers are frequently asked and one that’s difficult to answer. Different STIs have different symptoms, but some STIs can have no symptoms too, especially in their early stages. This is why some scientists have referred to the recent rise in STI cases as the hidden epidemic. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea, for example, are often asymptomatic and other STIs, such as syphilis and genital herpes can cause few, barely noticeable symptoms that can be easily missed. In fact, 80% of people who have genital herpes are unaware that they have been infected (see here for full article) . HIV can be added to the list of infections that often don’t have symptoms in the early stages. Some people who become HIV positive might have a bad cold/flu within 2 to 4 weeks, others do not have any symptoms whatsoever and may feel completely fine (see more info here). This is one of the reasons that approximately 1 out of 4 people that are HIV positive gay men (Ready for Action, THT, 2009) are unaware of their status whilst amongst young positive people as many as 60% are thought to be unaware of their status.
US testing promotion poster – Gay City, Seattle
Why does it matter?
So you might be thinking if I don’t have any symptoms and I’m not in any pain why should I be bothered that I have an STI or if I’ve become HIV positive. Good question. Well, firstly, when you do not know you have an STI/HIV and are not on treatment you are at a much greater risk of transmitting the infection to someone else. The amount of the infection if not being controlled by medication and it’s much easier to pass on. One reason it matters, then, is to think about the risk of transmission and the health about people around you – a kind of social responsibility. Another reason is that even through you might not have any symptoms the STI/HIV could be doing unseen damage to your body and it’s immune system. For example, chlamydia left untreated can cause fertility problems in men and women and syphillus left untreated can cause blindness, paralysis and even death. Another reason why it’s better to know whether you have HIV/an STI is the longer you leave them before getting diagnosed the more difficult they are to treat. This is one of the key reasons why late diagnosis of HIV results in a shorter life expectancy. Indeed, a recent article in the BMJ showed that at 20 years old late treatment on average results in a reduction in life expectancy of 13 years .
Ok, so how do I test?
There are some really useful websites that make it really easy to arrange an STI test:
GMFA – List of clinic for gay /bi men in London: http://www.gmfa.org.uk/londonservices/clinics/
NHS – Sexual health support services by postcode: http://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/Sexual%20health%20information%20and%20support/LocationSearch/734
Metro Centre clinic: https://www.metrocentreonline.org/sexual-health/testing-clinics/
Positive East testing: http://www.itsbettertoknow.org.uk/
West London Gay Men’s Project HIV testing: http://www.westlondongmp.org.uk/hiv_testing
GMI provides free sexual health support for gay and bi men at high risk of HIV in London. For more info please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or see here.
The views above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GMI Partnership.