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The Difference Between Bacterial and Viral STDs

Published: June 13, 2013

There’s a lot of information out there about sex, drugs and STDs. Your parents are telling you one thing and your friends are telling you another. It can get confusing.

When it comes to your health, knowing the facts is crucial. One thing that seems complicated is what distinguishes bacterial STDs from viral STDs.

Bacterial and viral STDs are caused by different pathogens. Bacterial STDs, as you can guess, are caused by bacteria that enter the body either through skin contact or body fluids. This is where the lines can get blurred – viral STDs also enter the body via skin contact or body fluids. The difference is that a virus is introduced to your body instead of bacteria. A virus, which is a small infectious agent, can only regenerate within living cells of an organism. Bacteria are living cells that cause infections.

Syphilis under a microscope

The biggest difference you should note is the treatment options for bacterial and viral STDs. Bacterial STDs such as gonorrhea, syphilis (which you can see as it looks under a microscope above), and chlamydia are often cured with the use of antibiotics. Although it does not prevent the diseases from ever coming back, it can remove the infection after treatment. If left untreated, bacterial STDs can lead to long-term health concerns like sterility or even death.

With viral STDs, there are no cures, only diminished symptoms. The four “Hs” of viral STDs to remember are HIV, HPV, herpes, and hepatitis B. Hepatitis B and HPV are the only viral STDs that can be prevented with a vaccine, but it is only effective if treated before the disease has entered the body.

If you begin noticing any sores or out of the ordinary symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately. Symptoms to look out for can be found on our STD glossary


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