What are Bacterial STIs? Comprehensive Guide

A bacterial STI is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria. Bacteria are living organisms that can reproduce on their own. Bacterial STIs are treatable, though they can cause more problems if left untreated. For this reason, early diagnosis and treatment are key.

Common Bacterial STIs

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Syphilis

Common Symptoms

  • Urethritis (inflammation of the urethra or painful urination)
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Ulcers or sores in the vaginal or penile area

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea and chlamydia may present with mild symptoms or, more commonly in women, no symptoms at all. It’s common for people to contract chlamydia and gonorrhea at the same time. Symptoms, if they occur, may include both urethritis and vaginal discharge from cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix).


An initial presentation of syphilis would include a painless genital ulcer that often goes unnoticed, followed by a rash, swollen lymph nodes, and a fever weeks to months later. These symptoms will spontaneously resolve even without treatment, but the disease will continue to progress.

Treatment for Bacterial STIs

  • Bacterial STIs are often treated with a one-time injectable antibiotic administered by your healthcare provider.
  • There are also some bacterial STIs that can be treated with antibiotic pills.
  • Treatment for gonorrhea and chlamydia includes both an antibiotic injection and antibiotic pills.
  • Syphilis is treated with an injection of penicillin.
  • If someone has an infection of just chlamydia and no gonorrhea is present, it can be treated with pills alone.

It’s very rare for someone to die from a bacterial STI, though technically if an infection is left untreated, there is a low risk of serious illness or even death. But the vast majority of people will have mild to moderate symptoms that resolve with proper treatment.

Prevention and Regular Screening

  • The clinical presentation of bacterial STIs can vary dramatically from person to person.
  • Some people may have severe symptoms, like pelvic inflammatory disease, while others can live with the STI for a long time and never show any symptoms.
  • The best way to prevent the spread of these infections is to make sure that you’re getting regular STI screens if you are sexually active.
  • Discuss any symptoms promptly with a clinician.

Specific Bacterial STIs

STI Infection Sites Transmission Symptoms Treatment
Chlamydia Penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, throat Semen, vaginal fluids Most people don't report any symptoms Antibiotics
Gonorrhea Penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, throat Semen, vaginal fluids Most people don't report any symptoms Antibiotics
Syphilis Vagina, anus, penis, scrotum, lips, mouth Skin-to-skin contact with an infected chancre or unprotected sex Chancre sore, body rash, no symptoms in latent stage Antibiotics
Trichomoniasis Vulva, vagina, penis, urethra Vaginal, anal, or oral sex Can be asymptomatic Antibiotics
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