December 1st > World AIDS Day

In observing World AIDS Day Christmas Spirit brings to your attention the following > How not to pick up an unwanted gift at the Christmas party

Tis the season to be jolly and that means parties, drinking and generally having fun, but be warned, seasonal socialising could also bring you an unwanted Christmas present.

Health agencies report that requests for help with unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), rise in the new year following the festive celebrations. Unfortunately, for many the party season means throwing common sense out of the window, and ignoring things like safe sex and taking precautions. Drinking more makes people uninhibited, more reckless and less likely to avoid unprotected sex, leaving them vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies and STIs.

This view is backed by a recent survey which found one in five people would have sex with a colleague at a Christmas party, while 27 per cent have had sex with somebody whose name they didn’t know or couldn’t remember. Research by SELFCheck, a new range of home health screening tests, also found that two-thirds of the 2,000 people surveyed would not get tested for STIs even after having unprotected sex with a stranger. The results from this survey are shocking but not very surprising. There appears to be an ignorance is bliss’ attitude which is no doubt linked to the stigma attached to STIs. It’s very important for young people to understand that rates of STIs are increasing and that having unprotected sex could be risky. The Health Protection Agency also reports a three per cent rise in STIs between 2004 and 2005.

Chlamydia, a common treatable infection that can cause infertility in women but often has no symptoms, is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection in the UK. It now affects one in 10 women aged between 16 and 24. Don’t let embarrassment stop you from asking a new partner to use contraception, and make sure you are organised with contraception before you go out partying or away on a Christmas holiday.

We’re also more vulnerable to common infections like thrush and cystitis during the party season due to an increased intake of sugary foods and booze. So don’t let a hectic social diary mean you ignore your gynaecological health – follow these simple precautions to avoid festive hazards.

SEXUALLY-TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS > THE FACTS

STIs > STI is an umbrella term for any infection acquired during penetrative sex. It includes conditions such as genital warts, gonorrhoea, hepatitis and HIV. Symptoms vary and may go unnoticed, but can include unusual bleeding or discharge, pain during urination, genital rashes, lumps or itches and pain during sex.

PREVENTION > Do not have unprotected sex, carry condoms and use them.

CURE > Most are easily treatable. If you’re worried you have a sexually-transmitted infection, you can find a clinic by calling NHS or look in the phone book under genito-urinary medicine, venereal or sexually transmitted disease. 

CYSTITIS > Two million UK women are affected annually and sufferers are most vulnerable to an attack in the party season because increased alcohol consumption and more sex can leave you prone to bladder inflammation. Other causes are not drinking enough water, being tired and run down, and using perfumed bath products.

Symptoms include feeling you want to urinate even when your bladder is empty and a stinging sensation when you do. Cloudy, smelly urine, pain in the lower back and blood in the urine are also signs.

PREVENTION > Wipe front to back after going to the toilet, drink plenty of water and cranberry juice, which is believed to prevent bacteria sticking to the urinary tract.

Avoid coffee and alcohol as they can turn urine acidic and always urinate after sex to flush out any bacteria.

CURE > Take painkillers and drink a lot of water to dilute the urine. Avoid sex and alcohol. Boots has Cystitis Relief tablets and sachets. If the attack lasts longer than two days, is severely painful, or if you have recurrent attacks, you should see your GP.

THRUSH > Wearing tight, hot clothing, or upping your intake of alcohol or sugary food can trigger an over-growth of yeast which thrives in a warm, moist environment. Thrush can develop when you have sex with someone who has the infection, but it is more likely to occur when you take certain antibiotics, are unwell or ill, use products that can cause irritation such as vaginal deodorants. Symptoms include itching and burning.

PREVENTION > Avoid bubble baths and feminine hygiene products, wear cotton underwear and stockings.

CURE > Use a cream such as Canesten Thrush cream, or Diflucan tablets, both from Boots.

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