Learn about the different types of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), their symptoms, and other STI information.

It is important to be aware of the different types of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some STIs have symptoms and some don’t, and some are more common in B.C. than others. Remember, many STIs are curable and all are treatable. If you think you have one, consider getting tested as soon as possible.

The most common STIs

These STIs are more common than others in B.C.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is transmitted through condomless oral, anal or vaginal sex. Many people, especially people with vagina/internal genitals, may not notice chlamydia symptoms. Even if you don't notice any symptoms, you can still transmit it to someone else. It can take two to three weeks after sexual contact for any symptoms to appear.

Common chlamydia symptoms include:

Vagina/internal genitals  Penis/external genitals
  • A change in vaginal fluid
  • Vaginal bleeding after sex, spotting between periods or more painful periods
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Pain in the lower stomach
  • Burning or pain when peeing, sometimes the need to pee more often
  • Burning or pain when peeing
  • Unusual fluid from the penis
  • Itchy feeling inside the penis
  • Pain and/or swelling in the testicles
  • Rectal bleeding or pus

Learn more about chlamydia.

Crabs (pubic lice) and scabies

Crabs or pubic lice are tiny insects that live on coarse body hair, usually near the genitals. Scabies are tiny mites that lay eggs below the surface of the skin of the hands or genital area. Crabs and scabies can be transmitted through close contact with another person, including sexual contact.

It is possible to have crabs and not have any symptoms. Common symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Tiny eggs at the base of your pubic hair

Symptoms of scabies include:

  • Itching
  • A rash with red lines or small bumps on the genitals or other parts of your body

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is passed through condomless oral, anal or vaginal sex. You may not notice gonorrhea symptoms. In people with vagina/internal genitals, early symptoms may be mistaken for a bladder infection or a less serious vaginal infection. Any symptoms usually appear two to seven days after contact.

Common gonorrhea symptoms include:

Vagina/internal genitals  Penis/external genitals
  • A change in vaginal fluid
  • A change in periods or more painful periods
  • Vaginal bleeding after sex or spotting between periods
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Pain in the lower stomach 
  • Burning or pain when peeing
  • The need to pee more often
  • Unusual fluid from the penis
  • Itchy feeling inside the penis
  • Pain and/or swelling in the testicles

Learn more about gonorrhea.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is passed through the stool of someone with the infection. It can be transmitted through:

  • Person-to-person contact
  • Oral-anal sex (rimming)
  • Contaminated water or ice
  • Undercooked shellfish from sewage contaminated water
  • Contaminated foods

Symptoms usually appear two to seven weeks after contact with the virus. The average time is four weeks.

Common hepatitis A symptoms include:

  • Feeling sick
  • Feeling very tired
  • No appetite and weight loss
  • Pain on the right side of your abdomen, under the rib cage (where your liver is)
  • Fever and sore muscles
  • Rashes or pain in the joints
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Dark urine and pale stools

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is transmitted by condomless sex with an infected person. It is also passed by sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail files or other items with infected blood on them. Tattoos, body-piercing, acupuncture or electrolysis with unsterilized equipment can also put you at risk.

You may not notice any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you may feel like you have the flu. Symptoms usually appear 60 to 90 days after you come into contact with the virus.

Common hepatitis B symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite, nausea and sometimes vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Skin rash
  • Yellowish eyes and skin (usually appears after other symptoms have started to go away)

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. The most common ways of transmission are through:

  • Sharing drug equipment, such as needles, syringes and snorting equipment
  • Getting poked with a needle that has been used by an infected person
  • Blood or blood product transfusions in a country where the blood supply is not tested for hepatitis C

The first six months after exposure to hepatitis C is called the acute stage. You may have no, or very few, symptoms during the first six months after exposure to hepatitis C. Over time, common hepatitis C symptoms that can develop include:

  • Fever
  • Feeling tired
  • Muscle pain
  • Loss of appetite and nausea
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine

Herpes simplex virus

Herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. It is found around the mouth, known as "cold sores," or in the genital area. It is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. You can have herpes and not know it. Symptoms may not appear for months or years. If you do get symptoms, they begin to appear two to 21 days after contact.

Early symptoms of herpes may include:

  • Itching, burning, or tingling where blisters or sores may appear
  • Painful red sores or tiny blisters
  • Swollen glands, fever and body aches
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and muscle aches

HIV and AIDS

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. HIV is transmitted through condomless vaginal or anal sex with someone who has HIV. It’s also possible to pass it by sharing drug equipment, such as needles. There is no cure, but treatment can help you to stay healthy. If left untreated, HIV damages the immune system and may become Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Symptoms generally appear two to four weeks after infection. Common early symptoms of HIV infection may include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Swollen glands

HPV and genital warts

HPV is very common. It is readily transmissible and one of the most common STIs worldwide. The estimated lifetime likelihood of HPV infection is upwards of 75 per cent. Most of the time, HPV infection is not serious, has no symptoms and goes away without treatment. There is an HPV vaccine.

Some types of HPV cause genital warts, while more serious types can lead to cervical cancer. Genital warts are usually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact during vaginal and anal sex. It may take from four weeks to eight months, or longer, for warts to appear after contact with the virus.

Genital warts are painless bumps that may appear near the opening of the urethra (pee hole), under the foreskin, on the shaft of the penis, near the vagina opening and inside the anus.

Sometimes warts never appear or you can't see them.

Learn more about HPV and genital warts. Get HPV vaccine information.

Syphilis

Syphilis is passed during unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex. A pregnant person can also pass it to their baby during pregnancy. It is difficult to diagnose because any symptoms can be very similar to other infections. Many people don’t notice any symptoms at all. Untreated syphilis can cause serious health problems.

Syphilis symptoms depend on the stage:

  • Primary stage: A painless sore can develop on the genitals or anus or inside the mouth from three to 90 days after contact. You may not notice it. The sore will go away on its own within a few weeks. However, syphilis will continue to progress.
  • Secondary stage: You may get a non-itchy rash from two weeks to three months after getting infected. It usually appears on the chest, stomach, genitals, palms of your hands and soles of your feet. Other symptoms may include headache, fever, hair loss, swollen lymph nodes and bumps or patches inside the mouth, anus, penis or vagina.
  • Latent, or hidden, stage: You may not have any symptoms for up to 30 years or more.

Learn more about syphilis.

Trichomoniasis ("Trich")

Trichomoniasis is more commonly found in people with vagina/internal genitals. It is passed through condomless vaginal sex. Often people do not notice any symptoms. Any Trichomoniasis symptoms usually appear between four and 28 days of getting the infection. In some cases, symptoms take months to appear.

Common symptoms in people with vagina/internal genitals can include:

  • Vaginal itching with redness
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Discomfort when peeing

People with penis/external genitals often do not have symptoms. They may include a burning feeling while peeing, fluid from the penis, or redness at the end of the penis.

Learn more about trichomoniasis.

Other STIs

Some less common STIs that are still worth knowing about.

Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV)

LGV is passed during vaginal, oral or anal sex. LGV can cause open sores in the genital area between three and 30 days after infection. Swelling of the lymph glands in the groin (buboes) may show up between two and six weeks—and up to several months—after infection. Buboes can break open and cause scarring.

Other LGV symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes in the pelvic area

Occasionally, LGV can cause symptoms in the joints, lungs, liver, nervous system or eyes. People who have anal sex may experience mucous discharge and bleeding from the rectum.

Learn more about LGV.

Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, including sexual contact, and is not harmful. If passed through sexual contact, painless bumps appear on the abdomen, groin, genitals, buttocks or thighs two weeks to six months after contact.

Over several weeks the bumps become firm, waxy, pinkish-white and raised with a small crater in the centre. They usually disappear within six months.

Learn more about molluscum.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

PID is an infection of a person with vagina/internal genitals' reproductive organs. It is caused by bacteria from the vagina passing through the cervix and moving up to the uterus and fallopian tubes. You can get PID from STIs, usually gonorrhea or chlamydia. Other cases include other non-sexually transmitted bacteria and medical procedures such as abortion and D&C (dilatation and curettage). You can have PID and not know it.

The most common PID symptoms include:

  • Pain in the lower abdomen, usually on both sides, that may be worse during sex, bowel movements, or when you pee
  • Fever or chills
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lower back pain
  • Abnormal fluid from the vagina
  • Need to pee more often
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or spotting between periods

Non-sexually transmitted infections

These infections are not STIs, but can be passed during sexual activity.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

BV is an imbalance of bacteria normally found in the vagina. It is not an STI but is more common in people with vagina/internal genitals who are having sex. Many perople who have BV do not notice any symptoms and do not need treatment. Common BV symptoms include more discharge than usual and a change in vaginal fluid odour.

Learn more about BV.

Yeast

Vaginal yeast is very common in people with vagina/internal genitals, but also occurs in people with penis/external genitals. Yeast infections are uncomfortable, but not usually serious. They are easily treated.

In people with vagina/internal genitals, yeast infection symptoms include:

  • Vaginal itchiness
  • Dryness
  • Pain
  • Increased discharge that can be thick and cottage cheesy in appearance

In people with penis/external genitals, yeast infection symptoms include:

  • Red, raised dots or bumps, which may be itchy
  • A cheesy white discharge on the head of the penis
  • The foreskin can swell and become tight

Think you might have an STI?

If you think you might have an STI, consider getting tested.

Resources