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Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are infections that are spread through any type of sexual contact, including:

  • Oral sex (contact of the mouth with the penis, vulva, vagina or anus)
  • Vaginal sex (penetration of the vagina with the penis)
  • Anal sex (penetration of the anus with the penis)
  • Genital contact between partners
  • Sharing of sex toys

As well, some infections can be transmitted through blood, such as HIV and hepatitis B, for example. An infected mother can also transmit an STI to her child through childbirth.

Contrary to popular belief, however, STIs cannot be contracted by contact with a toilet seat, sharing a towel, or insect bites.

The more partners you have, the greater your risk of contracting an STI.

Some STIs have no obvious signs or symptoms. It is therefore important for you to protect yourself when engaging in any sexual contact, and to see a health professional for regular screening.


Barring abstinence, the best protection is to avoid all sexual contact with individuals who have lesions, minimize the number of sexual partners, and always use a latex or polyurethane condom. Furthermore, using a dental dam (latex sheet or cut condom) during oral/genital contact, can also prevent the transmission of STIs.

Because condoms provide a physical barrier, they are the only contraceptive device (assuming they do not break and when used properly) that can effectively prevent STIs. While there are more effective forms of contraception (e.g., oral contraceptives and IUD), they do not protect against STIs.

Also, since some STIs are spread through blood, you should be very careful when it comes to potentially contaminated needles and syringes for intravenous drug use and tattooing/piercing.

Vaccination can reduce the risk of contracting certain STIs such as HPV and hepatitis B.


Some STIs can be treated with appropriate antibiotics. Others however, such as herpes and HIV, cannot be cured.

Certain medications can be obtained free of charge in provinces that have a special program for free access to STI treatments. Speak to your pharmacist.

Even if you have no symptoms, it is important for you to be receive treatment as you can still pass on the infection to others and serious health problems may develop if an infection is left untreated. In fact, some STIs can lead to infertility, paralysis and chronic pain.

The most common sexually transmitted infections

STIIncubation*Signs and symptomsComments
Chlamydia2 to 6 weeks

Discharge from the vagina or penis. Painful urination

Women: Pain during sex. Vaginal bleeding.

Men: Testicular pain. Itchy feeling inside the penis.

Over 50% of infected men and 70% of infected women have no symptoms.

Risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility in women if left untreated.

May cause conjunctivitis.

Diagnosis confirmed with swab test or urine sample.

Treatment with antibiotics.

Condyloma1 to 8 monthsWarts on the genitals and anus (that often resemble cauliflowers or are flat), which may itch, discharge or bleed.

Condylomatas are often caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can also be associated with cervical cancer.

Cervical screening (Pap test).

No cure, but warts can be removed.

Vaccine available.

Gonorrhea2 to 7 days

Purulent discharge from the vagina or penis. Painful (burning) urination. Pain and discharge from the rectum is possible. Sore throat.

Women: Pain during sex. Vaginal bleeding. Pain in the abdomen, may be accompanied by fever and chills.

Men: Testicular pain.

Over 50% of those infected have no symptoms.

Risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility in women if left untreated.

In women who are pregnant, gonorrhea can be passed from mother to child during birth, causing a serious eye infection that can lead to blindness.

Diagnosis confirmed with swab test or urine sample.

Treatment with antibiotics.

Hepatitis B60 to 180 days

Fatigue and malaise. Poor appetite, nausea and vomiting. Headache. Jaundice.

In 50 to 70% of people, there are no outward signs of infection.

Inflammation of the liver caused by a virus and spread through unprotected sex, sharing of dirty needles, exposure to infected blood or body fluids. If left untreated, can develop into chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Vaccine available.

Diagnosis confirmed by blood test.

Genital herpes2 to 21 days Itching and tingling around the genitals. Cluster of tiny fluid-filled blisters that turn into small ulcers. Painful urination. Tender lymph nodes in the groin. Fever and general malaise with the first episode.

Many of those infected do not have any symptoms or have mild symptoms.

It is a life-long infection. Episodes of acute exacerbation followed by symptom-free periods of varying length.

There is no cure, but medication can help ease the pain and control recurrent episodes.

Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV)3 to 30 daysA painless sore or lump around the genitals, mouth, or anus. Flu-like symptoms. Swollen lymph nodes. Purulent discharge from the anus when infected through anal sex.

If left untreated, may leave scarring or deformity in the genital, anal or cervical area.

Diagnosis confirmed with a swab.

Treatment with antibiotics.

Syphilis3 to 90 daysPainless open sore or ulcer on the genitals, throat, or anus. Rash on palms of hands, soles of feet or whole body. Flu-like symptoms.

If left untreated, it can cause damage to the heart, brain and bones.

Women who are pregnant and infected with syphilis can pass it on to the child, leading to birth defects and even death.

Diagnosis confirmed with a swab or blood test.

Treatment with antibiotics.

Trichomonase5 to 28 days

Vaginal itching. Frothy whitish vaginal discharge. Foul odour. Pain during sex and when urinating.

Usually no symptoms. Sometimes discharge from penis and pain when urinating.

Infection is caused by the trichomonas vaginalis parasite. 10 to 50% of those infected have no symptoms.

Women who are pregnant are at increased risk of pre-term delivery, premature rupture of membranes or low birth weight.

Diagnosis confirmed with swab test and physical examination.

Treatment with antibiotics.

*Time between infection and appearance of first symptoms.

For more information :

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

Sex & U

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