STI information

How do you get a sexually transmitted infection? 

Through unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex.
Through sharing sex toys that have not been washed or covered with a condom.
Via female to female transmission such as rubbing vulvas or transferring discharge from one vagina to another via fingers.
Passed from mother to baby during childbirth.

How do you prevent getting a sexually transmitted infection?

If used correctly, condoms will prevent both men and women from contracting most sexually transmitted infections.
There are some infections such as Herpes and Warts which live on the skin around the genital area such as the groin and pubis and the condom does not cover this area.

This is why we say that condoms will prevent most sexually transmitted infections.

Should I work if I have been diagnosed with an STI?

There are three very good reasons why you should avoid having sex with your partner and continuing to sex work until your infection has been fully treated and cleared:

1. Pain and discomfort – many STI’s cause pain and discomfort, either in the genital area or through flu-like symptoms.  Even with condoms and lubrication pain can still be felt.  Give your body a rest during this time.

2. Need to rest and recover – particularly if you are suffering from Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.

3. To avoid passing the infection on to other people.

It is very important that if you have a sexually transmitted infection, your partner(s) are also treated and checked for infections.

We are always happy to answer any of your questions about STIs in your language.
We will use a telephone interpreter or face to face advocate in your language who can do this.


Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

Signs and symptoms

  • BV is an overgrowth of a type of bacteria in your vagina.
  • It is not sexually transmitted
  • Useful bacteria exists normally in your vagina but certain practices such as using strong perfumed soap or washing inside (douching) and using baby wipes, can cause an overgrowth of some bacteria resulting in a change in the acid/alkaline balance of your vagina
  • 50% of women do not have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms you may have an increase in discharge it may be thin, watery and white grey in colour. And with a strong unpleasant fishy smell especially after sex.

How do you treat it?

BV is treated with antibiotics. Sometimes it will go away by itself.


Signs and symptoms

  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Pain or burning when peeing
  • Bleeding between periods or after sex
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Pain during sex
  • But 70% of women have no symptoms at all.  This is important to know as if Chlamydia is left untreated it can spread to other reproductive organs and cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).  This can lead to fertility problems (i.e not being able to have a baby).
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Burning sensation in the penis
  • Painful, swollen testicles.

But 50% of men have no symptoms at all.  This is important as if left untreated men will also experience fertility problems

If you are having unprotected oral sex without a condom you can get Chlamydia in your throat.

How do you treat it?

Treated with a single dose of antibiotics

Genital Herpes

Signs and symptoms

  • Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus.  There are two types of virus.  Type 1 usually causes cold sores on the face and Type 2 is more likely to cause herpes on the genitals
  • Blisters or small spots in the genital area become filled with clear fluid
  • When these blisters burst they become very painful
  • These blisters will eventually clear without treatment
  • It is possible to contract herpes in your genital area if you have oral sex with someone who has herpes (or a cold sore) around their mouth
  • The first occurrence of herpes can make you feel generally very unwell, as though you have flu.

80% of people never know they are carrying the virus

How do you treat it?

Treatment is aimed at relieving the pain so you may be given anesthetic gel to put onto the blisters and will be recommended to take salt water baths.

It is important to seek treatment as early as possible as if a doctor sees you within the first five days, treatment with anti-viral medication will shorten the length of the outbreak.  Treatment does not get rid of the virus in your system.  This is why many people go on to have a number of herpes outbreaks.  Usually these are mild and medication is not needed. However if they are more severe and frequent your doctor may prescribe anti-viral medication to take every day.
Herpes is not incurable - your immune system cures it very well and stops recurrences for most people.
We recommend this website for more information about herpes infection. 


Signs and symptoms

  • A change in vaginal discharge (becoming thick and smelly)
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Stinging and burning when peeing
  • But 50% of women with Gonorrhoea have no symptoms at all
  • A discharge from the end of the penis
  • Stinging and burning when peeing
  • Swollen and painful testicles.

90% of men with Gonorrhoea have symptoms

If you are having unprotected oral sex without a condom you can get Gonorrhoea in your throat.

How do you treat it?

Treated with antibiotics (single injection) or (less effective) tablets.

Hepatitis A

Signs and symptoms

  • Hepatitis A is a virus that affects the liver.  It  is the most common type of viral hepatitis
  • It is spread in areas of overcrowding and poor sanitaion through the faeces (poo) of affected people
  • It is mainly caught by putting something in your mouth that has been contaminated with the faeces of someone with Hepatitis A.  This could be through sexual contact involving rimming (when licking a person's anus)
  • Hepatitis A is usually a short term infection. The symptoms can be unpleasant but it is very rarely serious.

How do you treat it?

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A and most people recover completely within a couple of months.  

Hepatitis B

Signs and symptoms

  • Hepatitis B is a virus that affects the liver.  It is transmitted sexually or via blood to blood transmission (sharing needles), or via mother to child.
  • In rare cases Hepatitis B can be transmitted via household members to each other through sharing of toothbrushes or razor blades.
  • Most adults affected with Hepatitis B fully recover and go on to develop life long immunity.  Between 2-10% infected will become chronic carriers.  This means that they are infectious to others and can develop chronic liver damage.
  • Vaccinations against Hepatitis B are available to people who are considered to be high risk such as sex workers.  This involves a course of 3 injections.

How do you treat it?

If you have active Hepatitis B infection you will be referred to a specialist centre who will decide whether you need treatment.

If you have mild inflammation of the liver, you may not require treatment.

Hepatitis C

Signs and symptoms

  • Hepatitis C is a virus that also affects the liver.  It is most commonly transmitted via blood to blood transmission (sharing needles) but can be transmitted sexually – particularly through unprotected anal sex
  • Only about 20% of people affected with Hepatitis C clear the virus naturally, with 80% remaining infected and able to pass the virus on to others.  Of the 80% infected, a few can develop complications such as serious liver damage
  • There is no vaccination available for Hepatitis C infection.

How do you treat it?

If you are diagnosed with Hepatitis C you will be referred to specialist services where they will do further tests to decide whether you will benefit from further treatment or not.


Signs and symptoms

  • HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus
  • It is a virus that over time damages and weakens a persons’ immune system.  This means that they become vulnerable to a range of illnesses (often called opportunistic infections)
  • AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
  • This is a medical term to describe a collection of infections or cancers that occur when the immune system has become weakened
  • HIV is passed through unprotected sexual intercourse (anal, vaginal and infrequently oral sex), through blood to blood transmission (sharing needles or injecting equipment) and via mother to child transmission
  • If you are worried that you have been exposed to HIV in the last 72 hours then taking a 4 week course of anti- HIV drugs may help to prevent infection. This is known as Post Exposure Prophylaxis or PEP. You can get advice  from a sexual health clinic, accident and emergency or from the Open Doors Team on whether you should take PEP.

When people first contract the virus (called seroconvert) they are likely to have very strong flu-like symptoms.  However, some people have mild or no symptoms.

As a result, a significant number of people do not know that they are HIV+.  This is a problem as they then go on to infect others with the virus.

How do you treat it?

Treatment for HIV infection is available throughout the UK and is aimed at keeping the infection under control so that the immune system remains as healthy as possible.  It is important to test regularly as your doctor will want to give you the best advice and the most suitable medication at the right time to keep you healthy.

Non-Specific Urethritis In Men– NSU

Signs and symptoms

  • NSU is a general inflammation of the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the tip of the penis)
  • It is called non-specific because there are a number of different causes, some of which can be sexually transmitted infections such as Chlamydia and some of which are not sexually transmitted
  • Symptoms can include discharge from the penis, pain or a burning sensation when peeing.

Most men will have no symptoms so it is important to get tested regularly.

How do you treat it?

NSU is easy to treat with antibiotics.

Pelvic inflammatory disease

Signs and symptoms

  • This can be caused from an untreated sexually transmitted infection (usually chlamydia or gonorrhoea) that spreads from the cervix to inside the womb or tubes.
  • Mild symptoms can be: 
  • Lower abdominal pain or aching – a bit like a period pain
  • Pain deep inside during sex
  • Bleeding in-between periods or after sex
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • A few women become very ill with severe lower abdominal pain, a high temperature and nausea and vomiting
  • PID is a serious condition and possible complications include infertility, persistent pelvic pain, and an increased risk of an ectopic pregnancy if you become pregnant.

How do you treat it?

PID is treated with a course of antibiotics. The earlier the treatment is started, the less the risk of complications.

Pubic lice (also known as crabs)

Signs and symptoms

  • Pubic lice live in coarse body hair (mainly pubic hair, but can live on hairy legs, arm-pits or chest hair).  Occasionally in beards, eyelashes and eyebrows 
  • Pubic lice are very common and are easily passed from one person to another through close body contact or sexual contact
  • Pubic lice cause itching and can leave black powder in underwear, (this is their droppings).   Occasionally visible lice and eggs and spots of blood.

How do you treat it?

Easy to treat with special creams, lotions or shampoo that can be bought from a pharmacist.

Clothes and bedding should also be washed at a high temperature.


Signs and symptoms

There are three stages of syphilis.

  • Stage 1:  Painless sores that can appear anywhere on the body.  These sores are highly infectious and can take 2-6 weeks to heal.
  • Stage 2:  Develops if you have not accessed treatment in stage 1.  Symptoms may include a painless rash (often seen on palms of hands and soles of feet, patchy hair loss, white patches on the tongue or roof of the mouth or a flu like illness.
  • Stage 3:  Untreated syphilis may (after many years) start to cause very serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes, internal organs, bones and nervous system.  It can cause death.  Stage 3 syphilis is very rare in the UK as access to sexual health services and treatment for stages 1&2 is so straightforward.
  • Syphilis is transmitted via unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex and through mother to child transmission.

Syphilis can take a long time to develop symptoms or these symptoms can be easily ignored.  It is very important to test regularly for syphilis as it is best treated early.

How do you treat it?

The first and second stages of treatment for syphilis are treatable with a course of antibiotics (this is usually a course of injections).

Third stage syphilis can be cured but any damage already done to your body is permanent.

You will need to come back to your clinic for follow up to check that the treatment has worked.


Signs and Syptoms

Thrush is a yeast infection. 
It is not sexually transmitted.
Some people do not have any signs or symptoms of thrush, others may have:

  • Itching, soreness and redness around the vagina, or anus or penis
  • Unusual, white discharge from the vagina that may be thick and look like cottage cheese. It sometimes smells yeasty
  • Pain or discomfort when peeing
  • Pain when having sex.

How do you treat it?

Thrush can usually be easily treated with either a tablet that you take by mouth or anti-thrush pessaries that you insert into your vagina.

Trichomonas Vaginalis

Signs and symptoms

A change in vaginal discharge
A fishy unpleasant smell from the vagina
Discharge from the end of the penis
Pain when peeing for both men and women.

But in 50% of people there are no symptoms at all.

How do you treat it?

A short course (either a single dose or sometimes a week) of antibiotics.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Signs and symptoms

The need to pee more frequently than normal 
Pain or discomfort when peeing
Abdominal pain or back pain
Smelly urine
Blood in your urine
Feeling unwell.

How do you treat it?

Antibiotics are sometime necessary

To avoid getting a urine infection always:

  • wipe from front to back after a poo
  • try to pass urine after you have sex
  • try to drink plenty of water every day – 2-3 litres


Signs and symptoms

  • Genital warts are caused by a virus.
  • If warts do appear they tend to be small fleshy bumps on the skin and will grow anywhere on, in and around the genital and anal area.
  • Genital warts are painless (although they can itch) and they can appear as single warts or in groups.
  • Some people only ever get one episode of warts, but for others the warts can recur.

Most people will never develop any visible signs or symptoms and the virus will go away on its own.

How do you treat it?

The aim of treatment is to remove visible warts, as this reduces the amount of virus and will help your body to clear the virus.

Treatment is in the form of a cream that can usually be applied at home over a number of weeks.

In some cases, freezing the warts can be an option.