Updated 03 October 2016

Help, my STI is incurable!

Many people think that as long as it’s not HIV/Aids, any sexually transmitted infection can be cured without too much trouble – but nothing could be further from the truth.


HIV/Aids has been in the public eye since the early eighties and most people are well aware that once you are infected with the HIV virus you're stuck with it for life.

A rude awakening

According to the WHO, more than 30 different bacteria, viruses and parasites are known to be transmitted through sexual contact. Most people are however not as well informed about these organisms, and the general attitude is that as long as it’s not HIV it’s only a temporary problem – but nothing could be further from the truth.

Many STIs are in fact curable, and require either a single shot or a course of antibiotics to kill the offending organism. What’s less commonly known, though, is that antibiotics kill bacteria, but have no effect on viruses. (This is the reason why antibiotics are ineffective against colds and the flu.) So, if the STI you have is caused by a virus, you might be in for a rude awakening.

Read: Story of a virus

A case in point is genital herpes which is caused by the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus. Since HIV/Aids hit the spotlight in the early eighties, herpes has been almost forgotten. It's still a serious matter, though, and once you have it, there's no getting rid of it. The good news is that there are medications that can shorten or even prevent outbreaks.

Eight pathogens are linked to the vast majority of STIs. Half of these are caused by bacteria or a parasite (trichomoniasis) and are currently curable, but the other 50 percent are viral infections and therefore incurable.

The curable STIs are:

  • Syphilis
  • Gonorrhoea
  • Chlamydia
  • Trichomoniasis

The viral (incurable) infections are:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • HIV
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis (bacterial) and trichomoniasis (parasitic) can generally be cured with a single dose antibiotic regimen.

In the case of the four viral infections, although you have them for life, a lot can be done to modify or reduce symptoms. Antiviral medication can help to lessen, and sometimes prevent, the symptoms of herpes and HIV, and in hepatitis B immune system modulators and antivirals can help to fight the virus and slow down liver damage.

Read: Treating Hepatitis B

Another bit of good news is that hepatitis B, though not curable, can be prevented by a hepatitis B vaccine which is widely available.


The public and the medical establishment shouldn’t get too complacent about the effectiveness of antibiotics against the ”curable” STIs. The reason is that many antibiotics used to cure infectious diseases are no longer as effective as they used to be. Organisms named “superbugs” have developed resistance to antibiotics, and the WHO has issued repeated warnings that these superbugs are almost certain to cause new epidemics.

In South Africa and all over the world antibiotic resistance is exacerbated by the incorrect use of antibiotics. In many cases GPs prescribe antibiotics to people with the common cold “just in case”, even though they know that antibiotics are useless in the case of a viral infection.

Read: Alarm sounded on antibiotic overuse

The fact that animals in feeding lots are routinely given antibiotics  to prevent or treat disease and increase growth rates has also helped to increase the resistance of many pathogens to antibiotics. 

Especially gonorrhoea has developed a resistance to antibiotics in recent years. A highly drug-resistant “super gonorrhoea” has emerged in Britain where this rare strain was detected in 15 people in 2015. The number has since risen to 34 and doctors are very concerned that the strain might become untreatable if it no longer responds to any antibiotic. Although to a lesser extent, other STIs are also showing antimicrobial resistance, which raises concern about future treatment of these diseases.   

Read more:

Top risk factors for STIs

Child STIs on the rise

Gautengers, watch out for these 3 STIs


Exposed: Sexual Healing: Which STDs Can & Cannot Be Cured.

WHO: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

STD: The List of Curable and Incurable STDs.

Health24:The most important thing South Africans should know about superbugs.




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