Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)

Rates of STIs are on the rise in the U.S., and young people aged 15-24 account for half of all new infections. That’s why we want all students to feel empowered to make informed, intentional, and healthy decisions around prevention practices for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is important to understand the options for preventing, identifying symptoms, and treatment options for the STIs commonly found in college populations. There are two main types of STIs, those caused by bacteria and those caused by viruses. Regardless of the type of infection, it is important to know what to look out for and to make getting tested regularly part of your typical medical routine.

Prevention

Condoms and dental dams are excellent tools for managing risk of infection!

Risk of transmission for most STIs is significantly reduced using safer sex practices including barriers such as condoms (external and internal) and dental dams during all sexual contact. While some prevention methods are specific to certain types of infections (more detailed information is available below), barrier based options are an important part of making intentional decisions around expressions of sexuality.

You can find condoms and dental dams in Health Services, the Office of Health Education, and most residence halls (ask your JA/RC).

What to Look Out For

Many STIs are asymptomatic, meaning symptoms may not be present immediately after infection. The incubation period–the time between infection and the first symptom appearing– varies by every STI. Often, the first symptoms appear within one week to one month from the time of infection.

Symptoms can appear differently in everyone’s body, so it’s important to know what is normal for your body. Some symptoms that are not normal include:

  • Pain when having sex or urinating
  • Lumps, bumps, sores, or blisters on or around the penis, vagina, anus, or mouth
  • Discharge from the penis, vagina, or anus
    • Can be thick or thin, milky white, yellow, or green
  • Rash or swelling on the body
  • Rectal pain, bleeding, or discharge (after receiving anal sex)
  • Mucus on feces

Getting Tested

Regular testing is recommended for everyone ages 16-30. Since symptoms do not always appear immediately, getting in a regular testing routine is very important. This can look different for each person – for some, it may be getting tested monthly, while for others it may be getting tested after intercourse with each new partner. If symptoms do become present, testing sooner rather than later is always preferred.

Testing can be done in a number of ways:

  • Pelvic exams
  • Urine tests
  • Swab tests – vaginal and cervical, urethral (penis), anal, throat
  • Blood tests
    • Syphilis and HIV (more info below) are tested in the blood

All of these types of STI testing are available at Bates Health Services on campus. If you would like to speak with someone from Bates Health Services about more detailed questions or getting tested, please call 207-786-6199.

You may also pick up an at home screening kit around campus.

STI testing is also available in downtown Lewiston at Maine Family Planning.

Treatment

Treatment for STIs depends on the type of infection. Whether the infection is caused by bacteria, virus, or parasites will determine the course of treatment. Information about the treatment options for types of STIs common to college populations is included below.

+Treatment of Common STIs Caused by Bacteria- Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis

STIs caused by bacteria can usually be treated and cured with proper medical intervention, like taking a course of antibiotics.

Bacterial STIs Common in College Populations:

  • Chlamydia
    • Transmitted during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Symptoms are often absent or very mild
    • Commons sites of infection: penis, vagina, cervix, anus, eyes, throat
  • Gonorrhea
    • Often called “the clap,” common transmission occurs through unprotected vaginal sex, oral sex, anal sex, and rimming
    • Commons sites of infection: urinary tract, vagina, butt, throat
  • Syphilis
    • Caused by bacteria that enters the body through the skin during sex or close physical contact with an infected individual
    • Common sites of infection: mouth or lips, vagina, penis, anus

+Treatment of Common STIs Caused by Viruses- HPV, Herpes, Hepatitis
Hepatitis A,B,C, & HIV

STIs caused by viruses are typically more difficult to treat than those caused by bacteria. Treatment of viral STIs is specific to the type of infection. Information about the treatment of viral infections common to college populations is included below.

Viral STIs Common in College Populations:

  • HPV (Human papillomavirus)
    • HPV is the most common STI. Often times it can be harmless and go away by itself, but some types can lead to cancer or genital warts. There are about 40 different kinds of HPV that can infect genital areas – vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis, and scrotum, as well as the mouth and throat
    • HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact of genital parts with an infected person – even if there is no penetration, and even if no one orgasms
    • Managing HPV: There is no cure for HPV, but there are many ways to prevent it and also reduce its impact on one’s life:
      • HPV Vaccines – for everyone!
      • Genital warts can be removed by medical providers
      • High risk HPV can usually be treated before it turns into cancer – which is why regular Pap/HPV tests are very important
      • Condoms (external and internal) and dental dams can reduce risk
  • Herpes
    • Caused by a herpes simplex virus (HSA) that spreads through direct contact.There are 2 types, one that usually causes cold sores around the mouth or face, and one that usually affects the genitals, buttocks, or anal areas.
    • Some people have no symptoms, others have symptoms near where the virus has entered the body. They turn into blisters, can become itchy and painful, and then heal.
    • Managing Herpes: Many people have outbreaks several times a year. Over time they may become less frequent, and there are medicines to help fight the virus, lessen symptoms, and decrease outbreaks
  • Hepatitis A, B, C
    • Viral infection of the liver named for the virus it is caused by:
      • Hepatitis A: passed between people by a fecal/oral route, such a rimming
      • Hepatitis B: passed through sexual activity or contact with bodily fluids of an infected partner; highly contagious
      • Hepatitis C: passed through blood to blood contact
      • Symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and darker urine than normal
    • Preventing Hepatitis: Using barrier methods (external condoms, internal condoms, dental dams) can reduce risk of transmission
    • Managing Hepatitis: People living with Hepatitis work closely with medical providers to develop care and routines that work for them.
  • HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus–the virus that causes AIDS)
    • Transmitted by certain bodily fluids–blood, semen, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. The most common HIV transmission occurs through sexual behavior or shared needle/syringe use.
    • Preventing HIV: Using barrier methods (external condoms, internal condoms, dental dams). HIV prevention medicines like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) also exist and have shown increasing efficacy.
    • Managing HIV: Taking prescribed medications like antiretroviral therapy (ART) and seeing a medical professional regularly can help an individual infected with HIV live a normal life. Being open, honest, and communicative with all sex partners will help to prevent transmitting HIV.

+Treatment of Common STIs Caused by Parasites- Pubic Lice

STIs caused by parasites can usually be treated and cured with use of a medication that kills the parasite causing the infection.

Common STIs Caused by Parasites in College Populations:

Pubic Lice (“crabs”)

  • Pubic lice are neither a bacterial or viral infection, but are parasitic insects found in the genital area. Scabies occurs when there is an infestation of the skin by the lice. There are several lotions available to treat pubic lice or scabies.

Resources and Support at Bates

Clinicians at Bates Health Services are trained and here to support you. In addition, the staff at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is dedicated to supporting students as well. If you would like to speak with someone from Bates Health Services or CAPS, please call 207-786-6199 or 207-786-6200.