We’ve come to the end of Freshers’ Week, and maybe you’ve had a bit too much fun. We’ve all been there, made mistakes, and done things that we live to regret with the bad-boy (or girl) hall senior who seems so mature and experienced. Regardless of how, when, or why, many people all over Imperial will be waking up this week with a worry niggling at the back of their head: What if I caught something?
So, not to worry for long. The leaflets they hand out at the health centre can be confusing and contradictory, so we’ve used our wealth of experience with the consequences of bad decisions to write you a handy guide to setting your mind at ease.
Unwanted pregnancy concerns aside, if you think you’ve exposed yourself to anything, make sure you use a condom with any partners until you have the all clear. Condoms don’t prevent all nasties, but they go a pretty long way.
And before you accuse us of being heteronormative or female-exclusive, women who have sex with women are the lowest risk group for infection, and even if we were to recommend consistent use of dental dams, realistically, none of you are going to use one anyway. However, be safe, and always make sure that you get tested before having unprotected sex with a new partner.
1 | Chlamydia
Despite condoms preventing the spread of chlamydia, up to one in five young, sexually active people have it, and up to 90% of them don’t show any symptoms. Look around your lecture theatre, count them all up. Scary, isn’t it?
It can lead to infertility in women, so don’t bury your head in the sand. This is the one that you can get one of those take-home testing kits for, so it couldn’t be simpler, but from someone who has worked in sexual health, please make sure that you know what urine sample means before you put anything that comes out of your body in that cup.
Even without symptoms (burning when you pee, white discharge, soreness or tenderness in the genitals/abdomen), this can be detected after around 1-4 weeks after infection, so bear that in mind when you plan your visit to the sexual health clinic. As long as it’s caught early, this is nothing that can’t be easily taken care of with a course of antibiotics.
2 | HIV
HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system, and is most commonly caught through unprotected sex. There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments that can help you manage the virus. If you think that you have been exposed to HIV within the last three days, you can obtain post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) medicine from your doctor, sexual health clinic, or A&E department, which can stop you becoming infected. This stuff isn’t great for your liver, so don’t use it an excuse to go bareback.
Beyond this, the virus can be detected after around one month, although periodic testing for up to three months may be required. You can also get immediate pin-prick testing at many GUM clinics. By being careful to always use a condom correctly, you can minimise any risks of contracting HIV, so stay safe.
3 | Pubic lice
I hate the way you make me itch And the way you spread so far I hate the way you crawl on me I hate that you made me scar
Crabs are far less prevalent these days than they used to be, but they’re still a definite risk. They’re usually found in pubic hair, as well as any other body hair, and can be transferred to others through close genital contact. Condoms don’t stop these babies, and within a few weeks you’ll probably experience itching, and notice the lice or eggs on your hairs. You can buy creams or shampoos to treat this, or get them from your GP or GUM clinic. You might also want to boil wash your sheets and towels – you don’t want to have to explain to to half your hall why they’re suddenly all very itchy.
4 | Genital warts and HPV
I hate your painful lumps and bumps And the way you’re so ill-timed I hate you so much that it makes me sick It even makes me rhyme
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is so common in the UK that sexual health clinics won’t routinely test you for the virus. These days, the majority of teenage girls in the UK are vaccinated against the most common strains of HPV, as the virus is heavily associated with the development of cervical, anal, and throat cancers. Most cancer-associated HPV infections have no symptoms, and a lot of the time, it isn’t possible to pass on the virus to others.
The visible manifestation of certain strains of HPV is genital warts, which are fleshy bumps or skin growths near the genitals that usually show up within three months of the initial infection. These are spread by skin to skin contact, which can be somewhat prevented by ensuring that all affected areas are covered with a condom, although the skin surrounding the genitals can also be infected. These can be treated by your doctor or GUM clinic, by creams, liquids, or cryotherapy.
The main take home from all the recent HPV research is that male throat cancers caused by HPV are on the rise, which means that more men are now getting familiar with their partner’s ladybits. Yay!
5 | Syphilis
Syphilis is very infectious, and has a whole array of tells depending on the stage of infection (although not everyone will show symptoms). These can be small sores or ulcers near the genitals or mouth, a blotchy red rash, small skin growths, white patches in the mouth, flu-like symptoms such as headaches, lethargy, joint pain, and fever, or, if you really don’t get it treated, madness – rumoured to have been the cause of Henry VIII’s somewhat questionable marital decisions. This one can take a while to show up, so you can’t be sure until three months after possible exposure. But, you can prevent infection by making sure all sores are covered by a condom, and if you do pick it up, you can clear it up with some antibiotics.
6 | Scabies
Scabies is a skin condition caused by tiny mites, that is rife amongst student populations and is incredibly infectious. Affecting more than just the genitals, these creatures particularly like warm places and skin folds, such as your bum or breast creases. It’s spread by prolonged skin contact, including, commonly, sexual contact, and can be passed on even when barrier methods of birth control are used, as you’ll discover when the rash pops up a day or two later. If you visit your doctor, you will be prescribed an insecticide cream or lotion, and it’s best to avoid cuddling up too close to anyone until it’s all gone.
7 | Trichomonaiasis
Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite that is easily passed on through sex, but can be prevented by correct use of barrier methods such as condoms. Around half of people don’t have any symptoms (abnormal discharge that may be white or yellow-green, thick, thin, or frothy, pain when urinating, or soreness and swelling of the genitals), but it is detectable around a month after infection. It can cause significant complications if you’re infected during pregnancy, but it can be treated with a course of antibiotics.
8 | Gonorrhoea
I hate the way you’re whitish-green I hate it when you smell I hate it when you make me ooze Even worse when you make me tell [people I’ve slept with]
If you use a condom correctly, you can prevent the spread of gonorrhoea. Half of women, and 10% of men don’t show any symptoms (pain or burning when you pee, yellow, or green discharge, abdominal/genital pain or tenderness), but they can show up and it can be detected after 1-3 weeks.
Traditionally treatable by a course of antibiotics, strains of antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea have been found in metropolitan areas all over the UK, and although this is scientifically fascinating, you really, really, don’t want to pick up. Prevent the clap, wrap it up, guys. And maybe don’t talk about supergonorrhoea as an opener when you’re hitting on boys from Leeds. Trust me, it doesn’t work.
9 | Hepatitis
Hepatitis A and B are infections of the liver that are commonly transferred through sexual contact: Hepatitis A through contact with faeces, and B through exposure to blood and bodily fluids. They can both be prevented by getting vaccinations from your sexual health clinic, but if you are infected, it can be detected within 4-6 weeks. Hepatitis A and B can be symptomless (but can cause flu-like symptoms and jaundice) and will usually pass completely within three months without treatment.
Use condoms or other barrier methods as appropriate to prevent contact with the carrier substance, and try explaining your sexual practices in such explicit detail to the nurse at the GUM clinic that she recoils, skips you to the highest risk group, and immediately gives you all the vaccinations.
10 | Genital herpes
I hate the way I’m now diseased And the fact that I got the call But mostly I hate the way I can’t see you Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.
Genital herpes, which causes painful blisters on the genitals, is caused by the same virus that causes cold sores around the mucous membranes (nose and mouth) on the face. It is a chronic condition, and is very common. It is passed through direct contact with the sores, usually through having sex. Most people carrying this virus have no symptoms, but some experience outbreaks of sores throughout their life, which tend to lessen in severity over time. Antiviral medicines can be prescribed to control outbreaks, and sex should be avoided during an outbreak to prevent the spread of the virus. If you’re worried, most people will have their first outbreak within two weeks of being infected.