When it comes to health and well-being, there is no such thing as being ‘too cautious’. In the pandemic, people have started to understand reproductive health better. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) spread through sexual contact and in certain cases, can be caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. While both men and women are at equal risk of getting it, the symptoms in women can get more severe and lead to infertility.
Dr Meenakshi Dua, senior consultant, ART Fertility Clinics says the reason it should be taken seriously is because “STIs can have long-term damage on women by causing pelvic inflammatory diseases (PID), pelvic abscess, tubal blockage, and tubal damage in the form of hydrosalpinx. This causes infertility, tubal pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain”.
Some STDs, like syphilis, can even cause congenital infections to the baby, she says.
The doctor lists four STDs and explains how they can lead to infertility.
Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs. It is a bacterial infection that affects both men and women and carries a risk of transmitting the disease to the child in pregnant women. In the majority of women, chlamydia infections occur during adolescence, and remain asymptomatic. It can cause pelvic-inflammatory disease (PID) that can damage the female reproductive system causing infertility.
It is an STD that rarely shows symptoms and is the second most common STD after chlamydia. Women may experience spotting between periods, vaginal discharge and painful urination. If left untreated, it can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes leading to infertility or tubal pregnancy. Symptoms of gonorrhea do not always show in men, though they may experience painful urination or mucus discharge from the penis.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV-infected individuals are mostly in the reproductive age. It is a serious but manageable disease that affects an individual’s reproductive health. Several HIV/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)-related comorbidities, such as orchitis, acute epididymitis and PID are associated with infertility. That being said, there are assisted reproduction options available like IUI/IVF that can make having children in serodiscordant couples a much safer option.
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that causes pain, itching and sores in your genital area and near the oral cavity. It spreads through sexual contact. There is no cure for genital herpes but treatment can help manage symptoms and reduce the outbreak. Research suggests that herpes can lower sperm count in men and reduce the chance of achieving a successful pregnancy with their partner. If not treated on time, it can even spread to newborns at the time of delivery.
“Early diagnosis can prevent complications. If a person has STDs, it is essential they complete the course of medication so as to not get reinfected. It is advisable to not indulge in any sexual activity until then. STDs can remain in the body for years without ever showing signs, and hence all sexually-active people should undergo annual screenings. Getting tested for the infection is helpful for assurance of both the partners,” the doctor advises.