While not technically STIs, a yeast infection can be passed through sexual contact in rare circumstances.
What is a vaginal yeast infection?
A vaginal yeast infection is a common fungal infection caused by overgrowth of Candida, naturally occurring yeast. Yeast are normally found in a woman’s vagina in small numbers, but sometimes they can multiply and change the normal balance of bacterial growth. When the fungi begin to grow in excess, they may develop into candidiasis. These are the most likely fungi to cause yeast infections as well as infections in other moist areas of the body, such as the mouth (thrush), skin folds, and beneath the fingernails.
What are the risk factors for getting a yeast infection?
- Birth control pills
- Recent or current use of antibiotics and certain other prescription medications
- Unprotected sexual activity
- Mismanaged diabetes
- A weakened immune system
- Often we don’t find the cause
What are the symptoms of yeast infections?
Women may experience:
- Vaginal itching
- Burning while urinating
- Pain during intercourse
- Swollen or red vulva
- Thick, white discharge resembling cottage cheese
Men with an infection may develop balanitis, an inflammation of the head of the penis, and may experience:
- Painful swelling on the tip of the penis
- Red dots on the tip of the penis
- Dry peeling skin
- Burning during urination
Is a yeast infection a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
A yeast infection (or candidiasis) is not considered a sexually transmitted infection. In fact, they are a very common and normal part of women’s lives. An estimated three in four women will have a yeast infection in their lifetime, and many of these women will have recurring infections. In rare cases, a yeast infection can be spread through vaginal intercourse among partners who have unprotected sex, but the risk is low. Like any other vaginal infection, they should be treated immediately, and if you are sexually active and your partner is having symptoms, he or she should also seek treatment. In any case, sex should only resume once symptoms disappear.
Women commonly misdiagnose themselves with yeast infections when they need to be treated for other conditions. Recurring yeast infections can sometimes be a sign of an STI or some other condition that requires treatment, such as a bacterial infection. If you or your partner frequently experience some of the symptoms, it’s advisable to get tested to rule out STIs.
What if I experience any of the symptoms?
If you think you may have a yeast infection, but have never had one before, it is a good idea to see a health-care professional the first time to be diagnosed correctly before trying an over-the-counter treatment. It’s important to establish that they are truly yeast infections. Some women have a different vaginal discharge just before their period, and if it is itchy or irritating, it may be perceived as a yeast infection. There are many other things that can cause the same symptoms, and yeast creams may not fix the symptoms or can make them worse.
If the yeast species is resistant to the treatment used, the infections can recur, or never go away. In this case, your doctor can look for yeast under the microscope to confirm the diagnosis and can culture the yeast with a vaginal swab if the organism is resistant to treatment. Women who have confirmed recurrences of yeast infection in the week before menstruation can often get relief by taking a single tablet of a prescription medication each month about the time the infections have been recurring. Recurrent candidiasis (yeast infections) affects 5-8% of pre-menopausal women.
If you have a yeast infection, you and your partner should both abstain from sexual activity until the infection has been treated, or else you risk further irritating the vagina or reinfecting each other.
How are yeast infections treated?
Most yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal (local) medications, but it’s recommended you consult a health care professional before trying anything, especially if you are pregnant. Talk to a health-care practitioner about all the prescription and non-prescription drugs you are taking before you start any treatment. Burning of the genital area and rash after application is a common side effect of the treatment.
Once the yeast infection is confirmed, it is usually easily treated by over-the-counter treatments or prescription medications. Over-the-counter treatments are easily available and usually less expensive, such as tablets or suppositories that are inserted into the vagina, or ointments and creams (clotrimazole) that can be applied directly to the infected area for one to seven days. Prescriptions are typically taken in pill form and usually cure the infection faster, although they have more side effects like nausea and vomiting and are more expensive.
Some women do get cyclic yeast infections based on hormonal changes in the vagina. In this case, your options would include:
- Continue to treat the yeast infection each month
- Get the yeast infection pill (fluconazole) from your doctor and take it each month in the week before your period to prevent a yeast infection
- A yeast-free diet is also a treatment method for recurring yeast infections.
How do I prevent another infection?
A well-balanced diet with plenty of fibre can be the best preventative medicine. Wear loose dry clothing and avoid wearing wet clothing for extended periods of time.
Women can also take hygienic precautions to decrease the likelihood of developing an infection:
- Keep your genitals clean and dry, and rinse well after using soap.
- Avoid vaginal douching after sex.
- Never put anything in your vagina after it has been in your anus. After using the washroom, wipe from front to back.
- Avoid vaginal deodorants and perfume products such as soaps that can irritate the vagina.
- Wear underwear made of cotton instead of synthetic fabrics.