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2024-03-19 22:04:42

How Long Do STDs Last?

As many as one in five people in the United States have a sexually transmitted disease, with over 60 million infections a year costing billions of dollars in medical care. While some STDs will go away with the proper treatment, others are lifelong. In this blog, we’ll discuss how long STDs last and what treatment might look like.

How Long Do STDs Last? Some Aren’t Temporary

In order to understand how long STDs last, we have to talk about viral versus bacterial STDs.

A viral STD is caused by a virus. Importantly, it can’t be cured and stays in the body for life, although symptoms can come and go. Examples of viral infections include HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus type 2, the virus that causes genital herpes), HIV/AIDs, and hepatitis B.

A bacterial infection, on the other hand, can be cured if treated early on and before the damage to the body becomes irreversible. It’s important to note that even in the case of a bacterial STD, the negative impact on the body can still be long-term. Examples include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

All STDs that are left untreated can severely impact multiple organs and systems within the body.

So, we’ve now discussed that viral STDs never fully go away. What about bacterial STDs? While some might go away on their own, they can also last for years, if not addressed. With the proper antibiotics, most bacterial infections will clear up within a few weeks.

How Does One Manage Viral STDs Over Time?

Careful management of viral STDs can help keep symptoms at bay. 

For example, management for genital herpes includes the use of antiviral medicine that helps to prevent or shorten outbreaks, which can be taken as needed or even daily. There are currently seven approved drugs to help with the management of chronic hepatitis B. However, not everyone requires treatment. Some therapies are oral while others are injectable. For HIV, there are medications that help reduce the amount of the virus in the body so that the individual can continue to manage their health over time and reduce the risk of spreading the virus to partners

Are Some STDs Genetic?

No, STDs are not genetic and cannot be transmitted through DNA. However, they can be transmitted from a mother to the baby through the exchange of bodily fluids. This can happen via the placenta, birth canal, or through contact with open sores.

For example, syphilis can cross the placenta and infect the baby while it’s still in the womb. HIV can also cross the placenta and infect the baby during the delivery process. Additionally, the baby can become infected with gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B, and genital herpes as it passes through the birth canal. 

Can an Individual Die From an STD?

Yes, STDs can lead to death. However, it’s usually a result of the disease having lived in the body for too long without the necessary treatment. 

For example, if left untreated, gonorrhea can spread to the blood and joints, which can be fatal. To be clear, this is very rare.

One STD that can more directly be fatal is syphilis. After it’s been in the body for 10 to 30 years, it turns into what’s called tertiary syphilis. During this stage, the disease can damage the organs (including the brain), ultimately leading to death. This was more common before the discovery of penicillin antibiotics.

We want to reiterate that with early detection and proper treatment, some STDs are curable and others can be managed over time. This is why getting tested for STDs and having safe sex are so important! Individuals should also speak with their healthcare providers about getting vaccinated against sexually transmitted diseases. Currently, HPV, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B all have vaccines.

Additionally, some STDs that are currently lifelong might have a cure in the future. Research is ongoing.

How to Avoid Getting an STD

The only way to 100% avoid contracting an STD is abstinence — refraining from engaging in sexual intercourse and activities that could lead to the spread of STDs. Vaccination also provides protection. For example, the HPV vaccine has nearly a 100% protection rate. The hepatitis B vaccine offers 80% to 100% protection. Note that this is only under the assumption that the individual gets the vaccine when they’re not __already infected, which is why these are routine vaccines in childhood. These vaccines are for prevention, not treatment.

Using condoms will greatly reduce an individual’s chances of acquiring an STD, but they won’t prevent them completely.

If an individual engages in intercourse, they can reduce their likelihood of becoming infected by limiting their number of sexual partners. They should have open conversations with partners about their sexual health and agree to get tested before becoming physical. 

Learn more about what STDs to get tested for.

Can Someone Get an STD Without Having Sex?

Yes! An individual can catch an STD without having penetrative sex. HPV, syphilis, and herpes are all contagious through the spread of bodily fluids, like saliva. Chlamydia, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV are all contagious through contact with infected blood.

This is why it’s so important to really get to know people before engaging in any physical contact and encourage open communication about how both parties can maintain their sexual (and thus, overall) health.

Living With an STD

An STD isn’t a death sentence, but prevention is paramount! Individuals should get tested, ask their doctors about what vaccinations they might benefit from, know their partners, and keep the line of communication open.