In this article, I am going to tell you everything you need to know about viral stds, what they are and how to test each one.
A virus is defined as a small infectious organism. Viruses have the ability to infect all types of life forms. As long as a virus successfully finds a living host, it can then stay alive through replicating and copying its DNA within the cell.
A virus invades living cells and uses its chemical machinery to keep itself alive and to replicate itself. Viruses may contain either DNA or RNA as its genetic material.
Viral STDS are sexually transmitted diseases that are caused by viruses as opposed to bacteria and parasites. In this article, we will take a deep dive and tell you everything you need to know about viral STDs, what they are and when to test them.
- What Are Viral STDs?
- What Are Viral STD Symptoms?
- Are Viral STDs Curable? | How To Treat Viral STDs
- What Is The Difference Between A Viral STD And A Bacterial STD?
- How Can You Test For STDs
What Are Viral STDs?
Viral STDs are those which are caused by a virus. Sexually transmitted diseases may be caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses, however the effects and treatment of STDs by viruses will differ to those that are caused by bacteria and parasites.
Viruses are smaller than bacteria and can't survive without a living host. A virus attaches itself to cells and reprograms them to reproduce itself and become stronger within the living cell.
Unlike bacteria, most viruses are disease-causing. Examples of virus-causing diseases include the common cold, H.I.V., herpes, and chickenpox.
Let’s take a look at how some of the most common sexually transmitted diseases are broken down by their most common causes.
You can find the complete LetsGetChecked STD list here for a comprehensive view of all of the types of sexually transmitted diseases out there.
- Gardnerella (also known as Bacterial Vaginosis, BV)
- Hepatitis A, B, C, D & E
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
The most common viral STDs are often known as the “4 H’s” and they include:
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (H.I.V.)
- Hepatitis, Herpes Simplex Virus (H.S.V.)
- Hepatitis A, B, C, D, & E
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
There are some common bread and butter symptoms associated with sexually transmitted diseases but we will specifically run through and speak about some of the most common symptoms that you may experience if you do develop symptoms.
What Are Viral STD Symptoms?
Viral STD symptoms really depend on the type of viral STD you have, and in the majority of cases, there is a strong chance that you will not experience any symptoms. That is why it is so important to get screened on a regular basis.
As mentioned, viruses cause well-known infectious diseases such as the common cold, the flu and warts.
Viruses also have the ability to cause severe conditions such as H.I.V. (AIDs), hepatitis, herpes, HPV smallpox and ebola.
Let’s run through some of the most common viral STD symptoms, making sure to bear in mind that there is a strong chance you will not experience any of these symptoms but still be living with the virus.
H.I.V. is a retrovirus. A retrovirus has the ability to change a cell’s DNA. AIDs is a syndrome which can follow on after initial H.I.V. infection if it goes undetected through lack of screening or is untreated.
The symptoms of H.I.V. in men and women may include:
- Sore throat and/or enlarged glands
- Mouth sores
- Fever or a high temperature
- Headaches or migraines
- Rash, or lumps and bumps on your skin
- Feeling tired all the time
- Diarrhea or a noticeable change in bowel movements
- Unintentional or unexplained weight loss
- Oral candidiasis
- Recurrent vaginal infections, most commonly yeast and bacterial vaginosis
Hepatitis refers to both a condition and the virus that causes it. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, which can progress to cirrhosis, liver cancer and irreparable liver damage.
Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E are viruses which can lead to substantial liver damage.
Hepatitis B is a form of hepatitis most commonly spread through sexual activity, in particular through anal, oral and vaginal sex.
Hepatitis C is most commonly spread through contaminated blood , in particular the sharing of infected needles. It is not commonly spread through sex but it can happen.
The symptoms of hepatitis B in both male and females may include:
- Pain in the abdomen, particularly where your liver is located in the upper right portion of your abdomen.
- Darker or dark coloured urination
- Feeling too warm, hot or feverish all of the time
- Aches, pains, stiffness or soreness in the joints
- Loss of appetite and/or nausea
- Weakness, fatigue or a feeling of dizziness
- Yellowing of the skin or the whites of your eyes
Globally, 67% of people under the age of 50 are infected with herpes (HSV1). The HSV-1 is the culprit behind the pesky and commonly known cold sore.
Genital herpes can be caused by HSV1 or HSV2. This is more common as sexual habits continually change.
The most common symptoms of herpes in men and women may include:
- Small bumps on the vagina, penis and/or anus
- Ulcers which make urination painful
- Oozing or bleeding from blisters
- Tenderness in the penis and/or anus
- Scabs and/or blisters on the penis and/or anus
- Sores and/or blisters on the testicles and/or scrotum
- Scabs and/or blisters on the vagina and/or anus
- Sores on the eyes, buttocks, anus, cervix, mouth or urethra
- Burning or itching at the point of sexual contact
- Pain in your lower back, buttocks and/or legs
HPV is caused by a group of more than 150 subtypes of the HPV virus. HPV is most commonly contracted through vaginal and/or anal sex. The symptoms of HPV may take years and sometimes decades to develop as the virus may remain dormant.
The most common symptoms of HPV in men and women may include:
- Warts on the penis, scrotum or anus
- Warts on the vagina, cervix or anus
- Warts on the back of the throat
- Abnormal skin changes on the penis, scrotum or anus
- Abnormal skin changes on the vagina, cervix or anus
- Penile cancer (high-risk strains of HPV)
- Cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, or oropharyngeal (back of throat)
Are Viral STDs Curable? | How To Treat Viral STDs
STDs caused by bacteria can be treated and often cured with antibiotics.
STDs caused by viruses can be controlled, but they are not as easily curable. Viral STDs can be treated and controlled using antiviral medications.
Antiviral drugs are those which are used to treat someone who has been infected with a virus. Antiviral drugs are used to prevent or limit the effects of the virus before or during exposure to said virus.
Think about the flu vaccine you might have received when you were younger via injection. These vaccinations work to prepare the body for the flu virus through giving your immune system the right notification to build up antibodies that will fight and protect against viruses.
The difference between influenza vaccines and antivirals is that antiviral drugs are effective when administered within a certain time frame before or after exposure to a virus. Antivirals are effective during the time period that the drug is being administered as opposed over a longer course of time, as say, influenza vaccines would be.
So, in answering the questions, “are viral STDs curable?”, I think there are numerous variables we need to look at, remembering that most antiviral drugs will help to suppress the virus, as opposed to curing it completely.
Let’s take a look at the sexually transmitted diseases we are using as an example in speaking about the treatment of viral STDs.
H.I.V. | Treatment
The goal of H.I.V. treatment is to reduce the “viral load” down to the point where it is completely undetectable in the blood.
This status is now often illustrated through symbols “U=U” (Undetectable = Un Transmissible)
The treatment for H.I.V. is called Antiretroviral therapy or ART. ART is recommended to anyone who is living with H.I.V.
ART reduces the risk of transmission, and if treatment is successful, patients will essentially have no risk of transmitting H.I.V. to their partner.
Today, there’s a large number of H.I.V. medicines on the market, when seeking out treatment for H.I.V., you will be working with your healthcare provider to pick the best regimen for you.
Your regimen will depend on a number of factors including your personal health history, the potential side effects of the drugs on your immune system and the potential drug interaction between each type of medicine. As the needs of people with H.I.V. vary, there are several H.I.V.regimens to choose from.
The only way to know if you have H.I.V. is to get tested. H.I.V. testing involves taking a blood test which can detect H.I.V. antigens and antibodies in the 2-4 weeks after contracting the infection.
It is possible to take this blood test at a physician’s office or through taking an at home health test. Check out the LetsGetChecked H.I.V. testing options.
Hepatitis | Treatment
Hepatitis B & C may cause serious liver disease and affect millions of people worldwide. Many people with hepatitis B and C have no symptoms until the later stages.
The main difference between hepatitis B and C is that hepatitis B generally spreads through bodily fluids of an infected person. Hepatitis C is usually contracted from blood to blood contact.
Treatment for Hepatitis B depends on the time of exposure:
Treatment for hepatitis B following exposure may require a vaccination. If you are unsure as to whether or not you have been exposed and/or vaccinated, you need ensure that you have been vaccinated. If you have not been vaccinated, your doctor may give you an injection of immunoglobulin which is an antibody and will fight your exposure to the virus.
Treatment for acute hepatitis (short term infection) will more than likely go away on its own, simply requiring proper rest, nutrition and fluids.
Treatment for chronic hepatitis B infection may be life-long depending on the severity of the infection. The goal of hepatitis treatment is to reduce the risk of liver disease and prevent you from passing the infection onto others. Some treatment options include antiviral medications which are used to control the virus and slow down the process of liver damage.
Finally, in the most severe cases where irreversible liver damage has occurred, you may need to undergo a liver transplant. As this is a severely difficult transplant situation, if you are diagnosed with chronic hepatitis, the goal is to never get to this point.
Treatment for Hepatitis C is generally treated using antiviral medications:
Treatment for hepatitis C requires antiviral medications. The goal of these medications is intended to clear the virus from the body. The goal of treatment is to have no hepatitis C virus detected in the body at 12 weeks once you complete your treatment.
Your physician will choose your course of treatment based on the severity of the virus, whether or not you have suffered from liver damage previously and other medical conditions and medications that may interfere with your course of treatment.
In severe cases, patients may need to undergo a liver transplant. If this operation is successful, there is a strong possibility that patients will need to remain on antiviral medications to ensure that there is no additional liver damage to the transplanted organ.
The standardized test for hepatitis is a blood test which can be taken in your physician’s office, it is also possible to take an at home test which may detect the virus in your blood. Check out the LetsGetChecked hepatitis testing options.
Herpes | Treatment
There is no cure for herpes, however antivirals work to reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks.
The only way to avoid contracting herpes is to never have unprotected sex. If you receive a herpes diagnosis, the recommended treatment options you can take exist to relieve your symptoms and reduce outbreaks.
Medications can be used to relieve the pain associated with an outbreak, it can decrease the total number of outbreaks and it can slow down the progress of your next outbreak. It cannot prevent an outbreak for the rest of your life.
This is why it is so important to not give or receive oral sex if you see any lumps or bumps on the genitals or mouth that could be herpes.
In a clinical setting, physicians use blood tests to measure antibodies in the blood which are indicative of of HSV1 & HSV2. For a clinical diagnosis, physicians may also take a swab sample of an ulcer or lesion.
In some instances where one person in a couple may carry the herpes virus and the other person doesn’t, the couple is said to be “discordant” - often times we will consult with couples who want to check their status. If one person in the couple has not been exposed to the HSV2 virus, we will advise that they need to practice safe sex to steer clear of the virus.
So in terms of herpes testing options, you can either visit your physician’s office for a blood or swab test or you can take a herpes test at home. Check out the LetsGetChecked Herpes Testing Options
HPV | Treatment
Prevention is always the best cure, the importance of receiving the HPV vaccination in this case as it drastically decreases your chances of HPV infection, as well as lowering your risk of cervical cancer.
For benign strains of the HPV virus, warts will generally go away on their own, but there is a strong chance that they will reappear. In cases where people experience recurrent HPV outbreaks, each subsequent outbreak is less severe and shorter lasting.
There is no cure for HPV, but in most cases people are able to clear the virus via their own immunity. It is possible to treat symptoms of HPV but the virus may remain dormant for years, or within your system but in an inactive form.
When HPV is inactive, it will not be detected by testing and will not cause any problems.
Treatments for HPV warts may include over the counter treatments that work to disintegrate the wart, enhance the immune’s system’s ability to clear the wart or burn it off. There are also a number of surgical and laser treatments that can be used to remove the warts.
Certain strains of HPV are cancer-causing and those treatments are administered on a case-by-case basis.
For those who are not at high risk for HPV infection, you should be attending a smear test every three years. For regular screening, attend smear tests or take a HPV test at home. For a clinical diagnosis, attend your doctor if you are experiencing genital warts.
What Is The Difference Between A Viral STD And A Bacterial STD?
Bacteria are everywhere. They are mico-organisms that live in the air, the soil and water. Bacteria live on plants and in animals.
Most bacteria, including those in our intestines are harmless, in fact probiotics are known as “good bacteria” because they play a part in maintaining and regulating your gut health.
In most cases, bacterial diseases or infections can be cured quite simply with antibiotics.
Viruses are smaller than bacteria and can't survive without a living host. A virus attaches itself to cells and usually reprograms them to reproduce itself. Also, unlike bacteria, most viruses do cause disease.
Both viral and bacterial infections are spread in similar ways:
- Coughing and sneezing
- Intimiate contact with infected people, mainly through kissing and sex
- Contact with contaminated surfaces, food, and water
- Contact with infected animals, insects, fleas and ticks
In some ways, bacteria and viruses are very similar. For instance, both bacteria and viruses may cause pneumonia, meningitis and diarrhea.
In other instances, bacteria and viruses may work together as can be seen in the case of sinusitis which is caused by both bacteria and viruses.
In sum, bacteria and viruses can both cause infections and disease, however, bacterial diseases can be cured whereas viruses can only be controlled, outbreaks can be prevented but they cannot be cured.
How Can You Test For STDs?
We have detailed our tests under each treatment option and virus, however, it is good to know that you can use just one test to detect 2 out of 4 of the viral sexually transmitted diseases.
Our most comprehensive test is the Complete STD Test.
You should wait a minimum of 3 weeks from the time of sexual intercourse before taking your test. Sexually transmitted diseases can take a period of time to become detectable, and you must wait to ensure an accurate result.
Our H.I.V. test includes H.I.V. I, II and P24 antigen, which provides for a shorter window period of 28 days.
It may take 90 days for the hepatitis virus to become reactive in the blood.
It’s important to mention however that if you feel too unwell to wait for a screening, you should attend your physician’s office straight away.
The Complete STD Test measures the blood and urine for strains of:
Chlamydia is an infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
Trichomoniasis is caused by infection with the protozoan parasite Trichomonas vaginalis.
Gardnerella, also known as bacterial vaginosis or BV is caused by the overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria known as Gardnerella vaginalis.
Mycoplasma genitalium is a bacterium found in the urinary tract.
Ureaplasma urealytica is a bacterium that infects the urogenital tract.
Herpes Simplex I (HSV-I)
Herpes Simplex I (HSV-I) is a viral strain of herpes that is responsible for oral herpes.
Herpes Simplex II (HSV-II)
Herpes Simplex II is the viral strain of herpes that is responsible for genital herpes.
H.I.V. (I, II, P24 antigen)
H.I.V. (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a blood-borne virus.
Syphilis is a chronic bacterial infection by the bacterium Treponema Pallidum.
This Complete STD Test ensures that you receive a clear overview of your sexual health and all sexually transmitted diseases including those that are caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites are accounted for.
The only way you can truly know is to get tested. Track, monitor and improve with LetsGetChecked. After all, it’s good to know.