A sexually transmitted infection (STI) can be contracted when you engage in unprotected sexual activity with an infected individual. It is common practice to get tested for multiple STIs whenever you attend a GUM clinic, irrespective of whether or not you have any symptoms.
Why? Well, you can have more than one STI at the same time. This can happen, irrespective of how many people you've had sex with - although the risk of contracting an STI increases with the number of sexual partners.
Unfortunately, there has been a stigma surrounding the diagnosis of STIs, which has negative psychologcal impacts that may lead to a delay in seeking treatment. If you believe that you may have been exposed to an STI, then you should get checked. You can get tested at your local GUM clinic, or if you’d prefer to be tested in the privacy of your own home, you can order one of our Yoxly testing kits instead.
Which STIs Increase Your Likelihood Of Contracting Another?
Various studies have examined the relationship between different STIs. For example, syphillis has been shown to increase the risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV. Additionally, studies have reported that both chlamydia and syphilis are more common in HIV-positive individuals.
Although there is little data on patients presenting with multiple STIs, one study has shown that out of a total of 9,265 people, 7.3% had concurrent STIs (more than one STI at the same time). This happens when infection causes inflammation and breaks down the body’s natural defence mechanisms, making people more susceptible to catching another infection.
How Do You Contract Multiple STIs?
If you have sexual contact with somebody who has an STI, then you are at risk of catching an infection --especially if you do not use protection. Moreover, having sexual contact with one person who has more than one STI can also lead you to contract multiple STIs. Although, your risk of contracting an STI increases with multiple sexual partners.
Infrequent testing, a lack of education, and not using appropriate protection are all contributing factors to concomitant STIs. Getting tested regularly allows for early STI diagnosis and treatment, as well as reduces the chances of transmitting the infection(s) to your partner(s).
How Do You Know You Have Multiple STIs?
Different STIs can sometimes present with the same symptoms, making it difficult to determine whether you have contracted one or more infections . Some of the most common symptoms associated with several STIs include :
- Discharge from the penis or vagina: the discharge can vary depending on the STI (clear, white, or green-yellow)
- Painful or burning sensation when urinating
- Itching around the genitals
STIs are frequently asymptomatic, and so regular screening is the way forward to allow us to treat individuals before they develop complications. STIs don’t always immediately present with symptoms. Different STIs have different incubation periods, which is the time taken for the STI to display symptoms once contracted.
For example, approximately 50% of men and 70% of women infected with chlamydia do not display any symptoms. Likewise, 10% of men and 50% of women infected with gonorrhoea do not display symptoms. For those people who do develop chlamydia symptoms, symptoms may present anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks. Likewise, for gonorrhoea, symptoms may take up to 2 weeks to present. As a result, regular testing may be the only way to know for sure if you’ve contracted an STI--especially if you do not present with any symptoms.
Can You Get Tested For Multiple STIs?
STIs can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Some STIs can be cured, while others can be managed long-term with medications. For example, it is possible to have a long-term viral STI and at the same time contract a short-term bacterial STI. However, you will only know if you have multiple STIs if you are tested for multiple infections.
Individual testing kits will only test for the STI for which they are designed. For a more complete screen, consider opting for one of our comprehensive STI kits, which tests for 8 of the most common infections. As discussed, STIs are often asymptomatic, and so if you have been exposed to one STI you may have been exposed to many--unknowingly!
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends STI testing at least once a year, or after each new sexual partner(s). You should also get tested if you notice any unusual symptoms, or if you have been informed by your current or previous partner that they have or have been exposed to an STI.
How Are Multiple STIs Treated?
The appropriate treatment(s) will depend on the STI(s) contracted. A bacterial STIs such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and syphilis can often be cured with a course of antibiotics. Treatment for viral STIs depends upon the particular virus that has caused the infection (HIV, HPV, cytomegalovirus, etc.). Antiviral medications can help control symptoms and limit progression of the virus, however , some cannot be completely cured. For example, there are medications available to limit the severity and frequency of genital herpes outbreaks, but they will not completely eliminate the herpes virus.
For those infected with multiple bacterial STIs, their GP or sexual health clinic may treat them using a single course of antibiotics or a combination of antibiotics--depending on the STIs contracted. Once the course has been completed, they are advised to take another STI test (this is called a “test of cure”) to confirm that the STIs have been successfully eradicated. If not, further antibiotic treatment may be necessary.
Those infected with both a viral and bacterial STI may be given a different treatment regime. Sometimes a course of antiviral medications can be used to control the viral infection, and an additional course of antibiotics will be given to treat the bacterial infection.
Our Final Say
Co-infection of multiple STIs can happen when having unprotected sex with infected individual(s). Certain sexual behaviours are associated with concomitant STIs, such as having unprotected sex and/or having multiple sexual partners. However, this does not mean you cannot be successfully treated!
If your partner(s) has more than one STI, you could, from the same sexual encounter, just as easily contract multiple STIs as one STI; in other words, you wouldn’t need to have sex with that person twice (or more) in order to catch two or more STIs. However if you are already infected with an STI, you are more likely to contract another STI . If you have had unprotected sex, or are experiencing genito-urinary symptoms, consider ordering one of our discreet at-home test kits to facilitate early diagnosis and prompt treatment.
Hassan Thwaini is a qualified Clinical Pharmacist who has completed his Master's degree at the University of Sunderland. Since then he has not only pursued community and clinical pharmacy, but has expanded to aid in humanitarian work across the less fortunate areas of the globe. Hassan is currently working as a medical writer and has successfully been published within various nutritional websites, produced unique content for his university board, and carried out research for renowned surgeons.