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). STIs can be present with or without symptoms and some are more common than others. Many STIs are curable and all are treatable. If you think you have an STI or have been exposed to an STI, consider getting tested as soon as possible.

The most common STIs

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is passed through condomless oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Many people may not notice chlamydia symptoms. Chlamydia can be transmitted even if symptoms are not present. It may take anywhere from two to six weeks after sexual contact for symptoms to appear.

Common chlamydia symptoms may include:

  • 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 and sometimes the need to pee more often
  • Unusual fluid or discharge from the penis
  • Itchy feeling inside the penis
  • Pain and/or swelling in the testicles
  • Rectal bleeding or discharge

Learn more about chlamydia.

Pubic lice and scabies

Pubic Lice (sometimes called “crabs”) are tiny insects that live on coarse body hair, usually near the genitals. It is possible to have pubic lice and not have any symptoms. Scabies are tiny mites that lay eggs below the surface of the skin of the hands or genital area. Pubic lice and scabies are passed through close contact with another person, including sexual contact.

Symptoms of pubic lice may include:

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

Symptoms of scabies include:

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

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is transmitted through condomless oral, anal, or vaginal sex and can be present with or without symptoms. Early symptoms may be mistaken for a bladder infection or a less serious vaginal infection. Symptoms usually appear two to seven days after contact.

Symptoms of gonorrhea may include:

  • 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 or discharge 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.

How is Hepatitis A spread?

It can be spread between people through contact with infected stool which can occur with improper handwashing after using the bathroom or diapering or in sexual activities with oral-anal contact (like rimming).

Hepatitis A is also spread when a person eats food or drinks water that has come into contact with infected stool, examples include:

  • Food prepared by someone currently infected with Hepatitis A
  • Contaminated water or food
  • Raw or undercooked shellfish
  • Raw fruits and vegetables

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

Symptoms of hepatitis A may 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 and can be transmitted through condomless sex with a person who has the infection. Hepatitis B can also be transmitted through sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail files, or other items with infected blood on them. Tattoos, body-piercing, acupuncture, or electrolysis with unsterilized equipment can pose a risk for transmission.

People with hepatitis B may not experience symptoms. If symptoms are experienced, they are “flu-like” and usually appear 60 to 90 days after contact with the virus.

Symptoms of hepatitis B may 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. Here are the most common ways Hepatitis C is transmitted:

  • Sharing drug equipment, such as needles, syringes and snorting equipment
  • Getting poked with a needle that has been used by someone who has Hepatitis C
  • Blood or blood product transfusions in countries where the blood supply is not tested for hepatitis C (Canada routinely screens blood/blood products for Hepatitis C).

The first six months after exposure to hepatitis, C is the acute stage. During the first six months after exposure, symptoms may or may not occur.

  • 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 STIs. It can appear around the mouth, known as "cold sores," or in the genital area. Herpes is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. Individuals can have herpes and not know it. Symptoms may not appear for months or years. For those with a new infection, symptoms may appear two to 21 days after contact.

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 is through condomless vaginal or anal sex or through sharing drug equipment (e.g. needles) with someone who has HIV. HIV can be transmitted through breast milk and during pregnancy.

There is no cure for HIV; however effective treatment supports people living with HIV to maintain their health and prevents further transmission (See SmartSexResource.com; HIV Undetectable = Untransmisable).

If left untreated, HIV can damage the immune system and may develop into Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Many people do not experienced symptoms directly after acquiring HIV. If symptoms appear the generally occurs two to four weeks after infection.

Symptoms of HIV infection may include:

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

HPV and genital warts

The HPV vaccine is a cancer-preventing vaccine that can benefit you, no matter your sex, gender, sexual orientation, or sexual activity status.

In British Columbia, males born in 2005 or later and females can get the vaccine for free as long as they get their first dose before they turn 19 and their last dose before they turn 26. The HPV vaccine is part of the recommended vaccination schedule for all youth in British Columbia.

Visit ImmunizeBC to book your appointment today.

HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is easy to pass on and is one of the most common STIs in the world. Over the life span, 75% of people will acquire HPV infection at some point. Most of the time, HPV infection is not serious, has no symptoms and resolves 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 spread by skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. 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 genital and/or anal area.

Book an HPV vaccine appointment: https://immunizebc.ca/before19

Learn more:

Syphilis

Syphilis is transmitted during condomless oral, anal, or vaginal sex. A pregnant person can also pass it to a baby during pregnancy. It is difficult to diagnose because symptoms can be very similar to other infections. Many people do not 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. Because the sore is painless it often goes unnoticed. The sore will go away on its own within a few weeks. However, syphilis will continue to progress.
  • Secondary stage: A non-itchy rash may appear from two weeks to three months after getting infected. It may appear on the chest, stomach, genitals, palms of the hands, or soles of the 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: Symptoms may never appear or not appear for up to 30 years or more.

Learn more about syphilis.

Trichomoniasis ("Trich")

Trichomonas is transmitted through condomless vaginal sex. Symptoms often go unnoticed and usually appear between four and 28 days of getting the infection, and may take longer to appear.

Symptoms may include:

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

Trichomonas infection in the penis often does not display symptoms. If symptoms are experienced, they usually include a burning feeling while peeing, fluid from the penis, or redness at the end of the penis.

Learn more about trichomoniasis.

Other less common STIs

Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV)

LGV is passed during vaginal, oral, or anal sex and 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. LGV is rare.

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 spread 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 that has moved from the cervix up into the uterus and fallopian tubes. It is caused when bacteria passes from the vagina through the cervix and up to the uterus and fallopian tubes. PID can result from untreated STIs such as gonorrhea or chlamydia and from non-sexually transmitted bacteria that has been introduced into the uterus/fallopian tubes.

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 urinating
  • Fever or chills
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lower back pain
  • Abnormal fluid from the vagina
  • Need to urinate more often
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or spotting between periods

Non-sexually transmitted infections

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

BV is an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. It is not an STI but is more common in sexually active individuals. Many people 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

Yeast infection is very common. Yeast infections can occur in the vagina and/or in the external genital area (e.g. on the vulva, head of the penis or in the groin). Yeast infections are uncomfortable, but not usually serious and are easily treated.

Vaginal yeast infection symptoms include:

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

Symptoms of yeast infection in the genital region (e.g. on the penis or in groin area) include:

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

Learn more about yeast infections: Yeast | SmartSex Resource

Resources

  • Series | HealthLink BC
    Refer to “Sexually Transmitted Infections” section for information on numerous STIs, how to prevent them, symptoms and more.
  • Care - Options for Sexual Health
    For reproductive health clinics in B.C. that provide sex-positive services to people of all ages, genders and orientations.
  • Smart Sex Resource
    A service provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Get tested

The best way to find out if an STI is present is to get tested. Find a clinic: Clinic Finder | SmartSex Resource