While there are already so many unwanted stigmas hovering around sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the last thing people need is misinformation regarding the topic. If your parents are telling you A and your friends are telling you Z, the correct step you can take to avert misleading information is surf the Internet and go to reliable sources such as Singapore’s Ministry of Health or HealthHub.
We know all too well that STDs are mainly transmitted and spread through sexual contact (vaginal, anal, and oral), but getting more familiar with the types of infections also helps educate us more so that we can gauge the level of seriousness and severity of these diseases. STDs can be caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. Viral and bacterial STDs are results of different pathogens. In this article, we will discuss the details on these STD types and the distinct STD treatments a person should go through to cure or minimise the effects.
How bacteria, viruses and parasites differ
To fully grasp the concepts of bacterial, viral and parasitic STDs, we need to first know the difference between bacteria and viruses. Sometimes, these two terms may be confusing or even be used interchangeably when they are truly not one and the same. Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms which can survive and thrive in various environments. Some types of bacteria can even power through extreme heat or cold. Not all varieties are harmful. In fact, good bacteria is used when fermenting several foods such as yogurt. Some bacteria are helpful and reside in our intestines for the purposes of assisting with food digestion. However, as with other things, there are also bad varieties of bacteria which lead to sickness. The most common bacterial infections cause strep throat, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Bacteria can enter the body through body fluids and skin contact.
On the other hand, viruses are smaller compared to bacteria but need living hosts (humans, animals or plants) to thrive and multiply. Although viruses also invade the body through skin contact and body fluids, unlike bacteria, viruses are introduced to the body and are infectious agents that can only regenerate in living cells. Viruses cause diseases and illnesses such as common cold, chickenpox and measles.
Parasites share many similar qualities with human cells such as a defined nucleus. A part of a large group of organisms called eukaryotes, parasites are normally larger than bacteria although some forms are almost as small. Several varieties of parasites can only multiply within living organisms (hosts) while other forms can regenerate freely in the environment. One common disease caused by parasites is malaria, which results from microorganisms belonging to the genus Plasmodium.
Now that we are more acquainted with bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, we will delve deeper into which STDs belong to which types of infections. Some of the well-known bacterial STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. According to data released by Singapore’s Department of STI Control (DSC) in 2018, chlamydia and gonorrhea are two most common STDs to occur in the Lion City. One underlying difference that sets bacterial STDs apart from viral STDs is bacterial STDs are completely curable with the help of antibiotics. Despite the fact that antibiotics will not prevent the diseases from attacking again, they fully remove the infections if the person takes the prescribed amount of them. Some frequently prescribed antibiotics are doxycycline and azithromycin (for chlamydia) and amoxicillin (for gonorrhea).
However, do not get the notion that bacterial STDs are more tame and less threatening compared to viral ones just because they are curable. If left untreated, bacterial STDs can result in serious and long-term health problems in both men and women. For instance, chlamydia is not outright fatal, but if no treatments are taken, complications may rise. Women can have inflamed sexual organs (cervix, fallopian tubes, urethra and uterus), chronic pelvic pain and even infertility. Men also experience inflammation in sexual organs, urethritis and infertility.
Viral STDs might send more worry down a person’s spine because this type of infection cannot be cured. However, do not lose hope, because a person can still lead long, happy and fruitful lives if they undergo the required treatments to minimise the symptoms. In other words, viral STDs are treatable. Among many STDs, herpes, HIV/AIDS, HPV and hepatitis B are caused by viruses. Treatments for viral STDs vary from oral medications, ointments to electrosurgical procedures (for HPV).
Similar to bacterial STDs, viral STDs also pose long-term and in some cases, life-threatening health conditions when left untreated. HIV, for example, can be impeded to progressing to later stages if a person regularly takes antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV treatment after being diagnosed as HIV-positive. However, not getting diagnosed and being treated may lead someone to develop to the worst and most severe stage of HIV, AIDS. Even though there are no effective cures for the four “H’s”, human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B can be prevented by getting vaccinated. It is important to note that the vaccine’s effectiveness largely depends on when a person takes it (HPV vaccines work better in certain age groups) and it will only work when the disease has not entered the body.
Parasites get their food at the host’s expense. Speaking of parasitic sexual infections, one popular and common STD which stems from parasites is trichomoniasis. Other infections include scabies, lice and giardia, but trichomoniasis is the most frequent. This disease is caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis and often affects young women. This parasite travels through unprotected anal, vaginal and oral sex and lives in semen and vaginal fluids. The tricky part is the fact that most women are asymptomatic and do not know they have the disease.
Trichomoniasis is the most curable STD and mild symptoms in men and women revolve around itching around the genitals, pain or discomfort during urination and vaginal/penile discharge. To cure trichomoniasis, doctors usually prescribe oral medications (metronidazole or tinidazole that can be in the form of pills, tablets or capsules). Similar to chlamydia and gonorrhea, this medication can remove the infection but does not prevent the disease from circling back again.
Benjamin Franklin once advised us to not put off until tomorrow what we can do today, and this saying cannot be truer when we are talking about STD screenings. The only way to be sure you are free from any STDs is to get tested. Shim Clinic goes above and beyond to provide the most accurate STD tests and diagnosis. We also focus on STD treatments and HIV prevention methods such as HIV PEP and HIV PrEP.