These 5 STDs Are Incurable — but Here Are the Best Ways to Treat Them

Learning you have a sexually transmitted infection is never ideal, particularly when you find out you’ve contracted one with a grim outlook. While there’s no cure for some STDs, treatment options are often available to lessen or alleviate symptoms. When it comes to your sexual health, there’s no better time to play it safe. Here are five incurable STDs, and the best treatment options for each.

1. Herpes

Man and woman kissing in bed

You can’t cure herpes, but you do have options. | Puhhha/iStock/Getty Images

Genital herpes includes two types of viruses: herpes simplex 1, which tends to live around the mouth in the form of cold sores, and herpes simplex 2, which usually lives around the genitals. When most people think of herpes, images of blisters around the genital region come to mind. During an outbreak, these fluid-filled blisters will appear, and eventually break, leaving painful sores for about two weeks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 people in the U.S. ages 14 to 49 has genital herpes.

Treatment options if you have herpes

prescription pills falling out of a bottle

There are medications you can take if infected with herpes. | iStock.com

Surprisingly enough, most people who have the virus don’t actually know it. Because sores commonly exist on the skin and around the genital region, condoms do not 100% protect a person from contracting herpes, which is why getting tested is so important. If you’ve tested positive for the virus, the CDC says there are medications to help prevent or shorten breakouts. Typically, one medication is taken daily, and it will also lessen the risk of your partner becoming infected as well.

2. HIV

man and woman hugging

Get tested for HIV to detect it early. | iStock.com

Probably the most well-known (and feared) STD of them all, human immunodeficiency virus severely attacks a person’s immune system, and can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, AIDS, when left untreated. HIV is spread through bodily fluids, and destroys the body’s T cells, which are essential to the immune system in fighting off infections and disease.

Despite loads of research, people who become infected with HIV will have it for life, as there is no cure. At the end of 2013, about 1.2 million people in the U.S. were living with HIV, and in 2015, about 40,000 people were diagnosed. HIV, which can progress and spread rapidly, has three stages: acute HIV infection, clinical latency, and AIDS.

The three stages of HIV

Sick man with thermometer in mouth

The beginning stages of HIV could feel like the flu. | iStock.com/IPGGutenbergUKLtd

Acute HIV infection refers to the two to four week period after a person has become infected. During this time, he or she is highly contagious, and usually experiences flu-like symptoms. It’s also possible a person may experience no symptoms at all, or just assume they have the flu, which is why getting tested if you think you’ve been exposed is imperative.

In the clinical latency stage, a person may feel just fine, but HIV is still present, and the virus is reproducing at low levels. If they’re following proper treatment, a person could live in this stage for several decades, and their chances of infecting someone else are lower.

A person enters the final phase, AIDS, when their immune system is so badly damaged that they’re not able to fight off even the most common of illnesses. When left untreated, those with AIDS typically have three years to live.

Treatment options if you have HIV

older man about to take pills

People with HIV are now living longer, thanks to major medical advances in treatment options. | iStock.com

Antiretroviral therapy is the best method for treating HIV. When taken every day, this treatment can dramatically prolong the life of a person with HIV, keeping them healthy and lowering their chance of infecting others.

Since its introduction in the mid 1990s, antiretroviral therapy has had a great impact on the AIDS epidemic. Prior to this option, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years, whereas today, someone with HIV may live nearly as long as someone who does not have the virus, according to the CDC.

3. HPV

Couple talking to a doctor

This disease is very common. | iStock.com

Because human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., it warrants a spot on our list. In fact, according to the CDC, almost all sexually active men and women will get HPV at some point in their lives, and about 79 million Americans are currently infected. The issue with HPV, though, is that despite the many strands that exist, the virus often goes undetected. Even if your partner has never had any symptoms, the virus can still be passed through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Treatment options if you have HPV

doctor with medical chart

The HPV vaccine may help protect against the virus. | iStock.com

The HPV vaccine is recommended as a preventative measure. If you develop genital warts, your doctor may prescribe topical medicine. Other options to remove warts include freezing or burning them off, surgery, or lasers. If your doctor has detected cervical precancer, prevention may still be possible if detected early enough.

4. Hepatitis B

couple sitting on bench

Hepatitis B is very contagious. | iStock.com

Although there are five types of hepatitis, type B is most commonly spread through sex. According to Planned Parenthood, it’s a liver infection caused by a virus. While it can be serious, there’s no cure, so arming yourself with the hepatitis B vaccine, along with having safe sex, is important. It’s very contagious, and can be transmitted through contact with semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and urine.

Treatment options if you have hepatitis B

doctor with pills in hand

For chronic hepatitis B, you’ll need medication. | iStock.com

Fortunately, hepatitis B usually goes away on its own in four to eight weeks, and symptoms often don’t appear. Your doctor may recommend you rest, eat well, and get plenty of fluids. However, one in 20 people who get hepatitis B as adults become carriers, meaning they will have chronic hepatitis B infection. In this case, there are medications your doctor may provide to help treat it.

5. Gonorrhea

man and woman in bed

This disease is becoming resistant to many antibiotics. | iStock.com

Let’s begin by saying yes, gonorrhea does respond to medicine. However, recent news suggests this common STD is fast becoming resistant to its long-trusted antibiotic regimen (which is bad news for the estimated 820,000 people with new gonorrhea infections in the U.S. each year). Although a person with gonorrhea may show no signs, symptoms can include a painful or burning sensation when urinating, discharge from the vagina or penis, vaginal bleeding between periods, and painful or swollen testicles.

Treatment options if you have gonorrhea

doctor reviewing medical charts

A doctor will prescribe medication if you test positive. | iStock.com

Your doctor will prescribe treatment that involves two drugs to stop the infection, although this treatment will not undo any permanent damage already caused by the disease. Unfortunately, the CDC says the existence of newer drug-resistant strains threaten the medication’s effect, and if your symptoms continue after receiving treatment, it’s important you inform your doctor.

If you’ve been exposed to a possible STD, getting tested is the only way to know for certain whether you’ve been infected. There’s no need to take any risks when it comes to your health.

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