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Safety First

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Yes, you can get an STD (or an STI) from more ways than just the one you’re thinking of. Purva Indulkar & Anindra Siqueira tell you about a few other ways you can contract STDs that you should be aware of

Charlie Sheen was recently in the news about his health. He’s a very vocal celebrity and there’s almost no way you don’t know by now that he is HIV positive. And, he’s not the only high-profile name to be associated with the disease — the long list includes basketball legend Magic Johnson, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury and Hollywood heart-throb Rock Hudson. But, did you know that you can get an STD or an STI without being intimate with a partner? That’s right, it’s not the only way to contract an STD. You can get infected by indulging in several other activities — in fact, there are so many different causes that they should probably change the full form of the acronym! Anyway, the take home point here is that you need to be a lot more cautious when it comes to STDs and STIs, because you can catch them from the unlikeliest of sources. For example, you may have heard that HIV can be passed from one person to another through a blood transfusion, but there are other bizarre ways of contracting an STI — it isn’t possible to get pregnant by sitting on a toilet seat, but there is a chance that you can catch an infection, and it could be one that’s classified as an STI.

Dr. Rajesh Jaria, consulting physician at Hinduja Healthcare Surgical, Khar, tells us, “People are the same everywhere and although in India kissing and hugging is not a standard form of greeting, close physical contact is as common here as it is across the world. Not all STDs need sexual contact to be transmitted. Some can be transmitted merely through shared toilets or contact.”


Many conditions that are classified as sexually transmitted can also be transferred through non-sexual contact such as sharing towels or through blood transfusion. Here’s how you can contract an STD.

Blood transfusion
This is the most common way some STDs were transferred before we knew about it. Infectious agents such as HIV can survive in blood outside the body. If the person donating blood is infected with herpes, HPV, Molluscum Contagiosum or Hepatitis C, the person receiving the blood will almost certainly get infected. While this has been almost cut out today, cases are still seen where people get STDs through contaminated blood, so make sure you visit a trusted clinic for any procedure.

Sharing sheets, towels or clothes
Back in school, you may have been told to never share your towel and for a good reason. The parasite trichomonads that causes trichomoniasis (an infection of the urinary tract, vagina or digestive system) requires a host to grow, but can stay active outside a body for almost an hour. It sticks to damp fabrics such as used towels or sheets.

Reusing razors and needles
This is why your barber uses a fresh blade for each person. Any object that can cut or pierce the skin can create a gateway for STDs. If a person with Hepatitis A, B or C cuts themselves with a razor while shaving, and you use the same razor, you could catch the disease, even if you don’t cause a nick in your skin. You can also get an STI from improperly sterilised dental equipment, although the chances of this are pretty slim. And, if you’re getting a tattoo, make sure the artist uses a new needle, or at the very least, one that has been sterilised properly. Even sharing toothbrushes can lead to transmission under this mode.

Contaminated surfaces
While we can all unanimously admit that using public bathrooms is a nightmare, there is a possibility (although quite unlikely) that you can contract an STD when you use one. Molluscum Contagiosum, a disease that causes bumps on your skin, is one such infection. Although not strictly an STD and one which is transferred through skin-to-skin contact, it can also spread through contact with contaminated surfaces.

Contaminated food
The chances of you catching an STD from food are extremely slim. However, Hepatitis A can spread through ingestion of contaminated food. So, if someone preparing your meal has Hepatitis A and hasn’t washed their hands properly after using the restroom, you could catch the virus.

You can’t get an STD from something as harmless as kissing, right? Wrong! Kissing, even if it is a quick peck, can result in the swapping of saliva, from which you can catch the Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV 1) — an infection characterised by cold sores (blisters in or around the mouth).

Even if you’re not getting intimate, you could be doing something known as frottage, which is the act of two people rubbing against each other. This could also prove harmful if infected parts of one’s skin are involved, which can transmit herpes, HPV, Molluscum Contagiosum and syphilis. If you engage in this, you’re most at risk of a host of STIs, especially if protection isn’t used — and even if it is, there is a chance that you may still catch certain STIs.


HIV could be the most well-known sexually transmitted infection, but there are many STIs that can be contracted through non-sexual routes. Some don’t even require direct physical contact. These are the most common STDs in India that can spread through contact other than intercourse.

A herpes infection generally doesn’t show visible signs and symptoms — you may see signs in the very beginning, but they disappear after a while. However, in some cases, there are recurrent, painful blister-like ulcers on the body. Sadly, there is no cure for herpes, and it can even be transmitted from mother to child. And, you should also know that having herpes increase your risk of contracting HIV.

HPV infection
If you’re sexually active with multiple partners, you are at risk of becoming infected with HPV. This can lead to cervical cancer in women and throat cancer for both men and women.

This STD doesn’t usually show any symptoms, but in some cases, symptoms may appear from two to 30 days after sexual contact. Symptoms among men include a burning sensation while urinating, yellow, white or green discharge from the penis, and painful and swollen testicles. For women, symptoms can be confusing because they are similar to a bladder or vaginal infection. Women may also experience pain while urinating and might have some bleeding between their periods.

This STI has four phases, or stages. In the first stage, there will be a painless skin ulceration called a chancre, but there could also be multiple sores. The next stage presents itself with a rash that mostly occurs on your palms and soles, but sores in the mouth and vagina are also common. The third stage shows little or no symptoms, but in the fourth stage non-cancerous growths are seen and there are neurological and heart-related symptoms. Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics and you can reduce your risk by wearing latex condoms.

The most obvious symptoms of Hepatitis A, B or C are fever, loss of appetite and nausea. If it’s left untreated, the symptoms get more severe — including dark urine, pale stool and yellow discolouration of skin.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is caused due to the transmission of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), does not have any specific symptoms, but general symptoms include fatigue, headaches, fever and enlarged lymph nodes.

Hidden agenda
Not all diseases, STDs included, show symptoms. You could have a certain condition and not display any rash, itching, swelling, pain, or any symptoms for that matter. In fact, many STDs go unnoticed for a long time because their symptoms are not immediately clear. For instance, you may think that if a person has herpes, they will show warts or blisters, but this isn’t always the case. Don’t go just by external appearances as they can be very deceiving. Also, syphilis has been called ‘the great imitator’ because its symptoms resemble symptoms of a host of other conditions — so, your best bet is to stay well-informed.

Hard facts about STDs
Dr. Jaria sheds some light on a few myths in India surrounding STDs. “I would rather clarify a few aspects of STDs as absolute facts,” he says, giving us information to lay to rest any misconceptions you might have about STDs.

  • There is no immunity to STDs and recurrence can and in several circumstances, does occur.
  • The absence of symptoms does not mean the absence of an STD.
  • A contraceptive pill (such as the iPill) DOES NOT prevent the transmission of STDs.
  • Most viral STDs have no cure, but most bacterial STDs are curable.
  • Women develop more serious health problems from STDs, but men aren’t spared either.
  • STDs occur more commonly among people who are younger than 25-years-old.
  • The incidence of STDs is on the rise in India and one of the reasons for this is that people are experimenting with sex at an earlier age with many partners, without feeling the need to equip oneself with the necessary protective knowledge.

Red Flags
If you want the best chance of protecting yourself against STI and STDs, here’s what you need to know.

Dr. Jaria advises that protection such as condoms always be used, even if the activity you are engaging in doesn’t involve intercourse. He explains, “Use a condom in any and all situations. I cannot over-stress their use as a very significant protective mechanism.”

Okay, so you know what to do when it comes to the bedroom, but what about in general? Dr. Jaria says, “Ensure that you pay special attention to the hygiene standards followed when visiting barbers, hair dressers, hospitals, doctors, clinics and tattoo artists. Use plastic shields in public toilets or squat rather than sit on them. Avoid sharing towels and toiletries — use liquid soap rather than a bar of soap.”

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