Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on February 15, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Sexually transmitted infections (STDs or STIs) are some of the most common infections in the world, and anyone who’s sexually active is at risk. You might know that some STDs can be cured—with just a round of antibiotics, in some cases—but are there any STDs that aren’t curable?
If that’s what you’re wondering, then keep reading because here we’ll break down what STDs are not curable, the treatments that exist for these infections, and more.
Currently, there are 4 sexually transmitted infections (STIs or STDs) that are not curable: herpes (HSV), hepatitis B (HBV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and human papillomavirus (HPV). Other STDs are typically curable through medication, meaning that the infection can usually be eliminated from the body if the right medication regimen is followed.
While the 4 STDs mentioned above aren’t curable, they are treatable in the sense that medication and other therapies exist that can help minimize negative effects on one’s health.
Below, we’ll discuss each of these STDs in a bit more detail, starting with herpes.
Herpes comes in two forms: herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). Either of these viruses can cause genital herpes or oral herpes. However, HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes, while HSV-2 is more often associated with genital herpes.
Both forms of herpes are notable for the formation of blisters and sores in the infected areas. These sores are highly contagious and can be transmitted via skin-to-skin contact. Since it isn’t curable, herpes is a lifelong infection that can result in occasional recurring outbreaks during which symptoms temporarily reappear.
Treatment for herpes typically consists of antiviral medication for a specified timeframe (the exact time frame depends on the person under consideration and may be from several days or weeks to several months). The job of the antiviral medication is to stop the virus from replicating further in the body, which can help prevent or reduce the recurrence of outbreaks.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) can be a serious infection, though in its early stages it may not present with any noticeable or serious symptoms. Left untreated, hepatitis B can cause some serious issues in the liver, and may eventually result in severe liver disease. Hepatitis B increases the risk of liver cancer, liver failure, and cirrhosis.
Thankfully, there is a vaccine that can prevent HBV. If you have not yet had the HBV vaccine (or aren’t sure if you’ve been vaccinated), talk with your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated. It’s a great way to prioritize—and protect—your sexual health.
Treatment for HBV depends on many factors, including how compromised one’s lung function has become. Various antiviral medications exist which can help suppress HBV replication and minimize liver-related inflammation.
Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, can severely harm the immune system over time. In the case of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, the damage caused by HIV is so extensive that the immune system can no longer respond effectively to even the most basic infections or health problems—making AIDS a life-threatening condition in many cases.
HIV can be transmitted through sexual contact, as well as through contact with infected blood. It can take years before an untreated HIV infection develops into a noticeable issue. However, HIV is transmissible even in its early stages when it might not be causing any symptoms.
Easily check for HIV from home with the Everlywell at-home HIV Test.
The good news is that medications are available that can block HIV replication so it doesn’t progress to AIDS. Additionally, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a newer medication approach that can help prevent HIV infection in people who may have a higher risk of contracting it.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is considered the most common sexually transmitted infection. There are over 100 different types (or "genotypes'' in the virologist’s vernacular) of HPV, though only around 40 are known to infect the genitals region.
The types of HPV are classified as either low-risk or high-risk HPV. Low-risk HPV infections are associated with warts affecting the genital or anal region—or the mouth. They are otherwise relatively harmless. High-risk HPV types, on the other hand, have been linked with a significantly increased risk of certain kinds of cancer, such as cervical cancer. In particular, the high-risk genotypes HPV 16 and 18 are thought to contribute to about 70% of all cases of cervical cancer.
Fortunately, you can receive an HPV vaccine that prevents any new HPV infection in the future. Additionally, routine HPV screening can help alert you if you do have an infection with high-risk genotypes; in this case, a medical procedure to remove precancerous cells may be recommended to prevent the infection from progressing to cancer.
Preventing STDs starts with practicing safe sex. This means properly and consistently using a condom, dental dam, or another form of protection every time you have sex. It also means knowing how STDs can spread. For example, while many people associate sexual contact with vaginal or anal sex, some STDs can be transmitted through oral sex, too.
Along with practicing safe sex, routine screening for STDs is also important, especially if you have multiple sex partners and aren’t in a mutually monogamous relationship.
To check in on your status from the comfort and privacy of your home, consider our at-home STD testing options. Our STD test for men and STD test for women lets you easily check for 6 common STDs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.
1. Royer HR, Heidrich SM, Brown RL. Young women's Representations of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (RoSTD): a psychometric study. Res Nurs Health. 2012;35(1):15-29.
2. Genital Herpes - CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.
3. Herpes Simplex Type 1. StatPearls. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.
4. Herpes Simplex Type 2. StatPearls. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.
5. Viral Hepatitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.
6. Rajbhandari R, Chung RT. Treatment of Hepatitis B: A Concise Review. Clin Transl Gastroenterol. 2016;7(9):e190. Published 2016 Sep 15. doi:10.1038/ctg.2016.46
7. STDs and HIV – CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.
8. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.
9. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.
10. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. URL Accessed February 15, 2021.
11. Oral & Genital Herpes. Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.
12. Hepatitis B. Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.
13. Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.
14. HIV/AIDS. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 15, 2021.