Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs) are a major health problem in South Africa,
according to Dr Hester Alida Swart, and young people in Gauteng have been urged
not to ignore the signs and symptoms.
An STI can occur after using fingers, other body parts or sex toys that have
come in contact with another person's genitals or body fluids. STIs often don’t
have any noticeable symptoms and people are can become infected without even
According to a recent report by the provincial health department, the most
common STIs reported in Gauteng are genital blisters without ulceration,
genital ulcers and genital warts.
STI you most likely could have without knowing it
The report said 18 086 people visited public health facilities with STIs in
2014/15 compared to 19 416 patients in 2013/14.
The incidence of STIs in 2014/15 showed 33.4% males were infected compared
to 66.4% of females, and the most affected age group was those between 25 and
"Females comprise the majority of patients seen at health facilities as
their biological anatomy makes them more susceptible to STIs than males,"
Gauteng Health spokesperson, Steve Mabona, told Health24.
In women, STIs most commonly present as genital ulcers, warts or a vaginal
discharge, said Swart, who is an obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Faculty
of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg
Genital blisters and ulcers
Swart explained that a blister is a fluid filled pocket in the upper layer
of the skin while an ulcer is an open sore on the surface of the body. "Genital
blisters can progress to ulcers and they can be painful or painless and can be
accompanied by swellings in the groin area (lymphnode enlargement)," she
Genital blisters and ulcers can occur anywhere in the genital area and are
also associated with mouth ulcers as a result of oral sex, she said.
"The most common infective causes are herpes simplex virus, syphilis and
chancroid, which are all sexually transmitted," Swart explained.
However, Swart pointed out that not all ulcers are caused by infections;
they can also be caused by drug-reactions, trauma or cancer.
"A wart is a small, hard, non-cancerous growth on the skin caused by
members of the human papilloma virus (HPV) family," said Swart.
Genital warts can be on the vulva, vagina, cervix, perineal area or in the
mouth, said Swart adding they are caused by certain types of HPV that are
"These should not be confused with warts on other parts of the body.
These are caused by other types of HPV that are not sexually transmitted,"
If you have genital warts, you are also at increased risk of cervical,
vaginal and vulvar cancer.
"These need to be actively excluded by the health care provider by
careful examination, regular Pap smears and biopsies of the area if
indicated," she advised.
Swart said most women have a normal vaginal discharge that may vary in
volume and colour throughout the month. “If this discharge becomes foul
smelling or is accompanied by symptoms like itching or burning, it might be
indicative of an infection.”
The most widespread infections causing a discharge are thrush (candidiasis)
and bacterial vaginosis but Swart said these are not STIs.
“The most common STIs causing a discharge are trichomoniasis, gonorrhoea and
experiencing these symptoms should visit the clinic or general
practitioner (GP), advised Swart.
What you can expect from a visit to the clinic
“They will ask you more about your complaint, sexual practices and birth
control. You will need a full gynaecological examination that should
include a speculum exam.”
She said it was not correct to be treated without being examined since
serious conditions like cervical cancer can be missed.
"While most STIs present with relatively mild symptoms, they can have
more dire consequences for example pelvic
inflammatory disease (PID), cervical cancer and
an increased risk of HIV
“They can also cause infertility,
pregnancies and chronic pelvic pain. In pregnant women, STIs can lead to miscarriages,
early labour, diseases of the newborn and even stillbirths,"
Take our STI quiz
Referring to the decrease in the overall reported cases for 2014/2015
period, Mabona said this could be attributed to educational awareness
"The department has embarked on a massive campaign to mitigate the impact
of HIV/Aids, including STIs, using a combination prevention approach."
He said the campaign and all HIV/Aids and STI projects are implemented
through a branding platform called PASOP, which translates to:
P - Prevent new HIV, STIs and TB
A - Avoid reinfection
S - Stop the spread of HIV, STIs and TB
O - Overcome fear, stigma and discrimination
P – Protect one’s loved ones and others
Mabona encouraged young people to download the PASOP application for androids devices.
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Image: Couple kissing from Shutterstock