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STD vs STI: What are the Differences?

In Diagnosis & Treatment, Online Doctor by Dr. Clinton Osborn

There are a variety of different bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be transmitted through sexual activities. Eight of the most common infectious agents are linked to an STD. Out of those eight infections, only four of them are treatable. The curable infections are usually bacteria such as chlamydia, trichomonas, gonorrhea, and syphilis. The other four are viral agents that cannot be cured, and these are HIV, HPV, Hepatitis B, and Herpes Simplex virus. However, these incurable diseases can be managed through proper treatment.

The problem with these infections and diseases is that they can be transmitted from a mother to their unborn child through pregnancy. Because of the underdeveloped immune system, the fetus may experience death, low birth weight, stillbirth, prematurity, and other issues from the infection.

Because of the danger that these infectious agents can cause, it’s vital to get tested and educated about these diseases. We have compiled all the information that you’ll need to be well informed and what actions to take if you do get an STD. If you are interested in ways to protect yourself, we have information about prevention that can keep you safe and clean.

What are STDs?

STD stands for sexually transmitted disease. That means these diseases are transmitted through sexual intercourse. Examples of STDs are HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis, and much more. In the past, people often called an STD a venereal disease or VD, but it has changed significantly over the years. 

The most frightening part about STDs is the statistics. Each year, there are over 20 million new cases reported, and currently, there are over 65 million Americans that have an incurable STD. Some STDs can be eradicated through medications, while others are incurable and can result in death and disability. You often get STDs from vaginal, oral, or anal sex. People who have more than one sex partner, don’t use condoms, share needles, or work in the sex industry are at higher risk of getting an STD than the general population. 

HIV and herpes are chronic diseases that can be managed but not cured. However, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomonas can be treated with antibiotics. A lot of people think that STDs only affect your reproductive organs, but it can also spread throughout your system and affect your heart, vision, and other organs. Plus, having an STD can severely damage your immune system, thus, leaving you vulnerable to secondary infections. Another issue is that gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, also known as PID, which results in infertility for women. If you pass an STD to your child, it can lead to permanent damage or death.

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What are STIs?

STI stands for sexually transmitted infection. They are passed on from one person to another through sexual contact. Sexual contacts such as vaginal penetration are the most common way of getting an STI. The infection can be parasitic, bacterial, or viral, and it grows and stays in your body. Some of them will leave through the proper medication or a strong immune system, while others will remain forever.

It can be uncomfortable to talk about STIs with your partner, but it’s essential to have the conversation. A lot of times, people will think they’re clean because they may not show any symptoms. Usually, males are more likely to be asymptomatic than females, so they may be less likely to get tested and remain unaware that they have an STI. This could be very dangerous because they can spread the agent to their partner. That is why if you are sexually active, it’s best to get tested on an annual basis.

Differences Between an STD and an STI

STD and STI are often used interchangeably. A lot of people claimed that an STD is the same as an STI or vice versa, when in fact they have technical differences to them. If we look at this topic closer, it is no doubt that STI emphasizes more on the infectious agent, so it is often confused with STD, which is the disease that the agent causes. 

If an individual has an STI, it means that they have the infection, but not necessarily the disease. For example, a woman with HPV means she carries the virus; therefore she has an STI. Even though she carries the virus, but it doesn’t mean that she has cervical cancer from HPV. However, if she does get cervical cancer, then she has an STD. Another example is if a woman has gonorrhea or chlamydia, it means that she has an STI, not an STD. However, if she develops PID from chlamydia or gonorrhea, then that would be an STD.

When it comes to differentiating between STDs and STIs, we have to know the difference between infection and disease. Usually, an infection is the first step where a bacteria or virus enters the body and starts multiplying. As they multiply, it disrupts the normal body structure or function, which eventually leads to the disease. This means getting an STI is the first step that eventually progresses to an STD. Whenever we think of treatment and management, we should start with the prevention of an STI.

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How to Prevent an STI

Prevention is the most vital step to avoid getting an STI. Here are some strategies and tips on how to prevent STIs.


The most common method of preventing an STI is condoms. If you are having sex with someone you just met or entered a new relationship, then it’s best to use condoms during sexual intercourse. Keep in mind that an STI can still happen if the condom breaks, but it does serve to decrease the chance of transmission.


Abstinence is 100% protection against STI. As long as you don’t have sex, you won’t get infected.

Don’t Share Needles

One of the most common ways of getting an STI is sharing needles. The infection can travel through the bloodstream and stay in your system. Healthcare providers often get infected by accidentally pricking themselves with their patient’s needle. That is why it’s crucial to get diagnosed immediately if you get stung by a used needle.

Get Vaccinated

There are Hepatitis B vaccines that play an important role in preventing hepatitis infection. HPV vaccines are available to people between the ages of 9 to 26. Getting vaccinated is an excellent way to reduce transmission.

Wash After Sex

After sexual intercourse, the virus can travel through the vaginal mucosal region or through the mucous membrane within the discharge. If you urinate and wash your genital area immediately after sex, it can significantly decrease the chance of receiving a viral or bacterial infection.

Get Tested

When you get tested, you’ll know if you have an infection or not. If you have an infection, your doctor can prescribe you medication to get rid of it. If the agent cannot be eradicated, at least the medication can keep it under control or lower the viral load. This way it will lower the chance of transmitting the infectious agent to another person.

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How are STDs Diagnosed?

If your signs and symptoms signify a possible STI or STD, then it’s best to get tested immediately. You can get tested with various modalities but it depends on what you have.


Testing syphilis requires a blood test to determine the serology, which is the syphilis antibody. The doctor will start with the RPR levels. If it’s positive they will use an FTA antibody to confirm the diagnosis.


HIV is a little bit complicated and requires multiple tasks. The initial task is the Elisa method and detection of p24 antigen, and eventually, it goes towards the Western Blot. Because of the high amount of false negatives during the first two weeks, the doctor will have to do multiple testing throughout the month.


HPV is diagnosed at an OB/GYN office with a pap smear and culture test.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is diagnosed with a blood test for antigen and antibody for interpretation.

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are tested with a NAAT and culture test.


Trichomonas is tested with a vaginal culture, wet mount, and microscope to view the mobile, pearl shape micro-organism.


Herpes virus will require a Tzanck smear to detect the multinucleated viral organism.

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How to Treat STIs

Treatment of STI depends on what microorganisms you’re infected with. If you are infected with HIV, then your doctor will have to prescribe you a drug cocktail to keep it under control. If you’re infected with HPV, then it’s up to your bodies immune system to eradicate the virus, but it’s essential for the doctor to check for cervical cancer on an annual basis. The Hepatitis B virus would require medication, but sometimes your body can get rid of the virus on its own. Gonorrhea and chlamydia would require antibiotics like Ceftriaxone and Azithromycin, respectively. Trichomonas will require an antibiotic called Metronidazole. Syphilis can be eradicated with an antibiotic called Penicillin. Herpes will require treatment with Acyclovir. However, the virus cannot be eliminated from your system but can be kept under control.


The essential information about STDs and STIs is prevention strategies so you can protect yourself from these infections. Keep in mind that bacterial infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas, and syphilis are curable. However, viral infections such as HIV and HPV will stay in your system forever. You can only use medications to reduce the symptoms and to keep them under control, which can be provided by a doctor. With all this in mind, it’s essential to have safe sex and to get tested on an annual basis to ensure that you are free from these infections and diseases.

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