The Difference Between Viral and Bacterial STIs
Sexually transmitted infections caused by bacteria and viruses are the most widespread types of infections. Although they are contracted in a similar way, bacterial and viral STIs affect the body differently and therefore may require different treatments and tests. Below is an outline of the general differences of the two groups of STIs.
Bacteria and viruses
Bacteria are small single-celled micro-organisms that are able to live in many different environments. Not all bacteria are harmful to people and most infections are curable with the help of antibiotics. Viruses are smaller than bacteria and generally require a human host to survive. Viruses take over human cells and alter them so that they manufacture viral cells, resulting in the spread of the infection. Viruses can't be cured with antibiotics.
When are symptoms likely to appear?
- Genital warts
- Genital herpes
Bacterial STIs are mostly asymptomatic but symptoms that do occur generally start appearing a few days after infection. Symptoms of viral STIs can develop anything from a couple of days, weeks, months or even years after infection. They may be asymptomatic initially, leading to sporadic outbreaks. This is the case with genital herpes.
How are they both treated?
Most bacterial STIs can be treated with the help of antibiotics, although some may require stronger doses than others. The fact that bacteria can be killed with the help of antibiotics is one of the most distinguishing factors between the two pathogens. Viral infections are usually treated with the help of anti-viral medications or, in the case of HIV, anti-retroviral medications. Most viral STIs can't be cured, but many people live with the infections without them having too much of an impact on their daily lives.
Is either of them dangerous?
Bacterial STIs can be dangerous if they aren't treated in time, leading to many different types of complications, including neurological problems, which is the case with syphilis, or fertility problems, like with chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Viral STIs can be dangerous depending on the infection, but the most common infections, which include genital warts and genital herpes, aren't likely to cause complications. However, it's always a good idea to speak to your doctor about your treatment options.
How are they prevented?
Ensuring that you wear protection during all stages of sex, including external genital contact without penetration, can prevent both bacterial and viral STIs. This means that you should use a condom even during external genital contact. Protection should also be used during oral sex.