A guide to STI treatments
Reviewed by our clinical team
If you’ve had unprotected sex and you’re worried that you might have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it’s important not to panic. Most STIs can be treated relatively easily.
However, it’s important not to bury your head in the sand. Some STIs don't have any symptoms, for example chlamydia or HIV, so you could end up spreading the infection because you don’t know you have it.
The golden rule is to always get tested for STIs if you think you might have been exposed, whether or not you’re having symptoms.
STI testing & diagnosis
Getting an STI test is easy and free on the NHS. If you’ve had unprotected sex and you’re worried you might have picked up an STI, you should go to one of the following for a free test:
- Sexual health clinic (also known as a GUM clinic)
- GP surgery
- Contraceptive clinic (family planning clinics)
As an alternative, you can pay for a private test. If you’d prefer to test yourself from the comfort of your own home, visit our secure online STI testing clinic and order one of our reliable and easy-to-use home test kits. Our tests are for people who don't have symptoms.
STI treatment types
If you get a positive test result, or if your doctor or nurse thinks there’s a high chance you have an STI, you might need to start treatment straight away. The treatment you receive will depend on the STI you have, but the main types of treatment are:
- A course of antibiotics
- A course of antiviral tablets
- Creams, liquid or freezing treatment
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that’s really easy to treat with antibiotics, and the cure rate is very high - up to 95% if you take your tablets correctly.
If you test positive for chlamydia, or your partner has tested positive, they’ll start you on antibiotics – usually doxycycline for one week.
You’ll need to wait at least a week from starting treatment until you have sex again to make sure the infection is cleared from your system.
You can request doxycycline tablets for chlamydia through the Online Doctor website, if either you or your sexual partner have been diagnosed with chlamydia. If you’re experiencing symptoms, you should visit a sexual health or GUM clinic, or go to your GP.
Like chlamydia, gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection, which means it can be treated with antibiotics. You might be started on antibiotics if there’s a high chance you have the infection, even before you’ve been tested.
The standard treatment for gonorrhoea is to receive an injection of antibiotics, followed by one antibiotic tablet. Usually you’ll need to attend a follow-up appointment one or two weeks later for another test – during this time, you shouldn’t have sex.
We can’t offer gonorrhoea treatment at Online Doctor. Instead, you should attend a sexual health or GUM clinic, or visit your GP.
Genital herpes treatment
Genital herpes is a viral infection, which means it can’t be treated with antibiotics. In fact, there is currently no cure for herpes and flare-ups of symptoms can occur over time.
However, there are two types of treatment that can help during an outbreak:
- Antiviral tablets to reduce the severity of your symptoms
- Pain-relieving creams to apply directly to the affected skin
The first time you experience herpes symptoms you should get checked and receive treatment in person. Once you’ve had a diagnosis of genital herpes, you can order treatment through Online Doctor for any future outbreaks.
We prescribe the antiviral tablet aciclovir, which should be taken for five days as soon as you start to experience symptoms. This treatment will help to reduce the length and severity of the outbreak.
We also can also prescribe herpes suppression treatment, which is designed for people who have more than five or six outbreaks of herpes symptoms each year. With this treatment, you’ll take aciclovir tablets twice a day, every day, normally for an entire year. It should lead to fewer (or even zero) outbreaks, and less severe symptoms.
In addition to taking antivirals you may also want to use a pain-relieving treatment like Instillagel. This is an anaesthetic (numbing) gel that is applied directly to the affected skin to ease pain and discomfort.
Genital warts treatment
Like genital herpes, genital warts are caused by a virus which stays in your system and can cause recurring outbreaks of symptoms.
The easiest treatment for managing genital warts is cream or liquid, applied directly to the affected skin to gradually dissolve the warts. Normally you can apply this yourself, although sometimes it has to be applied by a healthcare professional.
Other treatment options include surgery or freezing to remove the warts – this should always be done by a doctor or nurse.
At Online Doctor we can prescribe two types of topical treatment to people with genital warts: Aldara and Warticon. They work in slightly different ways and it may take up to four months for the warts to clear.
HIV is a virus, and at this moment in time there is no cure. The good news though is that modern treatments keep the virus suppressed and allow you to live a long and healthy life.
If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, you should take an emergency treatment called PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), which can stop the infection from taking hold. PEP is usually available from sexual health or GUM clinics, or in hospital A&E departments. If you miss the opportunity for PEP and test positive for HIV, you can be treated with antiretrovirals – these stop the virus from replicating in the body.
When HIV is diagnosed early enough, and medication is taken correctly, patients can achieve an “undetectable viral load”. This means that the amount of the virus in your blood is so low it can’t be detected in a test, and the infection can’t be passed on to anybody else.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics – normally penicillin. If you test positive, you’ll need to see a doctor or nurse in person, as the treatment usually involves an injection. The exact treatment you’ll need will depend on how long you’ve had syphilis.
Letting your partner know that they might have an STI
If you’ve tested positive for an STI, it’s important that any current or recent sexual partners are notified, so that they can get tested too.
The good news is that you don’t have to do this yourself if the thought makes you feel very anxious or embarrassed. You can simply give the sexual health clinic the details of any current and recent partners, and they can send out a note telling them they should get tested. If the clinic does this on your behalf, they don’t have to name you.
Of course, you may choose to tell your sexual partners about your diagnosis yourself. If you need help with this process, you can ask for help from a sexual health adviser at the clinic.
Support for coping with an STI
Waiting for test results or going through treatment can be scary. You can talk to your GP if you’re feel very anxious or depressed about a diagnosis, and get a referral for counselling. Help is also offered by sexual health advisers at GUM clinics.
For people awaiting an HIV test result, or anyone who’s recently been diagnosed as HIV-positive, there are some excellent resources available at the Terrence Higgins Trust.