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Here's the Main Difference between Bacterial & Viral STIs


Medically reviewed by: Dr. Kimberly Langdon (M.D) on 3 January 2022.



Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are serious infections that can be spread through sexual and non-sexual activities.


There are more than 30 varieties of parasites, viruses, and bacteria that lead to almost 20 types of STIs.


These may pass from person to person via vaginal and penile discharges, blood, and genital contact, etc.


Examples of STIs include syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, and HIV/AIDS, etc.


Infections such as herpes and chlamydia are transmitted via sexual intercourse or


They can also spread from a pregnant mother to her baby during delivery or pregnancy.


In 2018, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported¹ that almost ⅕ individuals in the United States had a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Also, these infections are widespread, thus they are difficult to measure accurately. Therefore, the number is likely higher.


This is because STIs may or may not be symptomatic.


Also, you can catch multiple STIs simultaneously. Thus, it is hard for individuals to diagnose, treat and prevent their spread.


If left untreated, these may advance into chronic phases and may lead to severe health conditions, like certain cancers, etc.


STIs can be best diagnosed via testing. Therefore, it is best to refrain from any sexual activity if you suspect any STI symptoms, and see a doctor immediately!


In this article, we'll elucidate the types of viral and bacterial STIs, the difference between them, their common symptoms, treatment, and more!


Stay tuned!




What are the types of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?


There are 2 major types of STIs:


    • ● Bacterial STIs


    • ● Viral STIs


Bacterial STIs are those STIs that are caused by bacteria. While viral STIs are those STIs that are caused by viruses.


The types of bacterial and viral STIs may be discussed in the upcoming subheadings as:



What are viruses? Which STDs do they cause?


A virus may be described as a small organism that is highly infectious. It affects all living organisms.


It tends to live as a host inside a living being to stay alive.


Meanwhile, it reproduces and copies its cellular DNA.


The most common STDs that are caused by viruses include:


    • ● HIV/AIDS is caused by the virus known as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).


    • ● Human papillomavirus (HPV) — is caused by a virus known as human papillomavirus (HPV).


    • ● Herpes simplex virus (HSV) — is caused by a virus called herpes simplex virus (HSV).




What are bacteria? Which STDs do they cause?


Bacteria may be defined as the microscopic organisms that are present in the air, water, plants and animals, human beings, and soil.


In fact, in the human body bacteria is present 10 times as compared to its cells.


Most of the bacteria don't harm anyone and are treated with antibiotics.


The most widespread STDs caused by bacterias include:


    • ● Syphilis — is caused by a bacterium known as treponema pallidum.


    • ● Chlamydia — is caused by a bacterium known as chlamydia trachomatis.


    • ● Gonorrhea — is caused by a bacterium known as Neisseria gonorrhoeae.


    • ● Mycoplasma — is caused by a bacterium known as bacterium mycoplasma pneumonia.


STIs like trichomoniasis are caused by parasites. Trichomonas vaginalis is the one-celled parasite that causes the trich infection.




What's the difference between viral and bacterial STDs?


Apart from their cause, STDs caused by viruses and bacteria differ from each other concerning early diagnosis.


Also, viral STIs can only be well-managed, but not cured. While bacterial STIs can be cured, too.



How to diagnose an STD?


The best way to confirm whether you have an STD or not is by testing.


You can get the testing done by going to a local physician's office or ordering an at-home testing kit.


That said, it is vital to tell your doctor about your entire sexual history and follow all the instructions given by the doctor, including medications and follow-up appointments.



Risk factors


Some real-time risk factors may be:


    • ● If you have become sexually active


    • ● If you condomless sex


    • ● If you're suffering from any unusual bodily changes soon after having sex


    • ● If you're starting a new sexual relationship with another better half


    • ● If your spouse has been diagnosed with an STI


    • ● If you have been diagnosed with an STI before


    • ● If you're a pregnant woman or are trying to get pregnant


    • ● If you don't get tested for STIs frequently


    • ● If you've been sexually assaulted



Most Common Symptoms of STIs


STIs can be intimidating.


However, it is vital to take care of one's sexual health² by being conscious of any changes that occur in your body irrespective of how small these may appear.


This is because STIs may not exhibit symptoms in many individuals.


Also, STIs often overlap with the symptoms of other medical conditions, like a yeast infection.


Thus, people often overlook it until it gets properly diagnosed by a doctor.


The symptoms of STIs may be mild, moderate, or even severe. Some generic symptoms of STIs may be:


    • ● Unusual or foul genital discharges


    • ● Pimple-like bumps, lumps, sores, or skin rashes in or surrounding your genitals


    • ● Burning sensation while peeing


    • ● Redness in or surrounding the genital area


    • ● Itchy genitals and the area around it


    • ● Blistered mouth, chest, or face


    • ● Visible symptoms like pubic lice


    • ● Bleeding or sore genitals


    • ● Pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen


    • ● Pain when having sex


    • ● Non-specific symptoms may be fever, chills, sudden loss of weight, diarrhea³, tiredness, etc.


Therefore, if you feel any of the symptoms, then talking to your doctor is especially true if you are sexually active.


She/he will treat your illness and advise you to mitigate the risk of any other STD.


They may also counsel you to use condoms every time you have sex with your spouse.




Can you have more than one STI?


Many STIs, including gonorrhea and chlamydia, often overlap in their symptoms. These may also occur at the same time in some individuals.


Also, STDs like herpes are often confused for non-STD conditions like a jock itch.


This means that you can never be certain whether or not you are carrying an STI or how many STIs you could be carrying at the same time.


This holds true especially if you're sexually active with your spouse who is suffering from multiple STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, or HIV/AIDS, etc simultaneously.


This means that the only way to be sure whether you carry an STI or not is by regular testing between you and your spouse.


Multiple STIs can be present in an individual due to infrequent testing. It is only through regular testing that any STIs you may be carrying can be detected earlier, thus, helping you to treat and prevent them from spreading.


An average STI testing panel detects almost 11 STIs in one step. It tests for STIs like, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS, etc.


Therefore, it is always recommended to get tested for multiple STIs at once for earlier treatment.


If STIs are left untreated, these can advance into serious conditions, including cancer.


Therefore, you need to find a trustworthy healthcare provider with whom you can have an honest talk about your sex life.


To get tested, you will have to go to your health care provider's clinic or order an at-home testing kit for STIs.


You will be required to provide a swab, urine, or blood sample.


The results often come back within a few weeks on your registered mobile number or email. Sometimes, they might also send you results via a confidential post.


If you have HIV/AIDS, you can contact the National AIDS hotline — 800-232-4636 as provided by the CDC.


Their team members will help you get the right information about the infection and ways to deal with it.


Also, it is recommended to stay away from any sexual activity during this period, including oral sex.


However, if you should have sexual intercourse, you must use condoms and dental dams to help prevent the spread of STIs. This holds for oral sex, too.


Additionally, make sure to inform your spouse if your results come up positive.


By following the exact guidelines given by your physician, and taking the proper preventive measures against STIs, you can be healed from any STIs sooner than expected.


In the meantime, eating the right foods, and having exercise regularly are advised.


If you're tense about your results, consider visiting a psychologist and discussing your problems with him/her.


Their team will help you with any emotional distresses during this time.



Can You Prevent Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?


You can help in preventing the spread of any STI by practicing safe sex, i.e, by using condoms every time you have sex with your spouse.


However, using condoms doesn't completely cancel the risk of developing or spreading any STIs.


If you or your spouse is allergic to latex condoms, you can opt for using polyurethane condoms.


The best thing to do to avoid getting STIs is to avoid any sexual activity, including oral sex if you suspect any symptoms or haven't considered getting tested in a while.


Also, many STIs can now be prevented with vaccines, like hepatitis B and HPV. You can get vaccinated earlier, too.



How do STIs affect pregnant women?


STIs can cause problems in pregnant women as well as their unborn children.


If you are suffering from an STI during pregnancy, then you may be prone to premature labor — the number one cause of infant death, uterine infection, etc.


This is because you can pass the STI to your baby via the placental connection. Examples of such an STI include syphilis and HIV/AIDS.


Some STIs, like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes, etc, can spread from the mother to her newborn during delivery (via the birth canal).


These STIs can pose risk to babies, including:


    • ● Low weight at birth


    • ● Infection in the eye


    • ● Pneumonia


    • ● Your newborn's blood may get infected


    • ● Damage to the brain


    • ● Loss of vision


    • ● Neurological conditions


    • ● Loss of hearing power


    • ● Chronic liver disease


    • ● Stillbirth


For breastfeeding mothers, it is important to remember that:


    • ● If you've HIV — don't breastfeed your baby. You can use a hygienic substitute instead of breastmilk.


    • ● If you've trichomoniasis: you can breastfeed your baby only after you take the antibiotic metronidazole, *strictly 12-24 hours before you start breastfeeding your child.*


    • ● If you've HPV, gonorrhea, or chlamydia — you can breastfeed your baby.


    • ● If you've syphilis or herpes — you can breastfeed your baby as long as any of the sores or lesions of your nipple and areola don't come in contact with your baby and breastmilk, both!


Therefore, all pregnant mothers should go for regular antenatal check ups to keep an eye on STIs. Getting tested doesn't have any risks. STIs can be easily treated with antibiotics.




A word From Us


STIs that are caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites can be dangerous by and large.


That is why you need to have at least a basic idea about STDs, their modes of transmission, and effects, etc.


Fortunately, with modern testing methods and medications, it is easy to detect and treat STIs respectively.


Remember that the only way to confirm whether or not you have STI/multiple STIs is by getting tested, whether at a professional healthcare provider's clinic or using a home testing kit.


Additionally, if you are sexually active with your spouse who is suffering from multiple STIs, including syphilis, chlamydia, HIV/AIDS, and herpes, etc., at the same time, then you are also prone to catching these infections.


This holds true even if you're developing an STI already.


What do you think is the best way to prevent developing viral and bacterial STIs at the same time? We think it is getting tested for multiple STIs.


Medically reviewed by: Dr. Kimberly Langdon (M.D) on 3 January 2022.

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