Can a Treated STD Come Back?

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis can all be treated, and often cured, with antibiotics. While it's important that you find treatment for your STD, having your STD treated is not a guarantee that it will never come back. You have to use your medication as directed, and you also have to be careful about prevention so you won't get re-infected.

common reason for STD recurrence
Verywell / Cindy Chung

Taking the Incorrect Medication

Keep in mind that your treatment can fail if you're taking the wrong medication. You might be prescribed the wrong drugs due to syndromatic treatment, an efficient, but sometimes inaccurate treatment method in which patients are prescribed STD treatment based on symptoms, rather than testing. This is sometimes done in STD clinics when there is a concern that the patient might not come back for their test results.

And you could be taking the wrong medication if you've acquired it on your own and chose the wrong ones—such as taking medication that was prescribed for a past STD you had, or for your partner, or for a friend.

Not all STDs are caused by the same pathogens (infectious organisms). Different illnesses require different treatments.

That's why it's so important for your healthcare provider to correctly identify what's causing your infection. That's also why you can't just take any random antibiotic and hope it's going to work.

Taking Medication Incorrectly

If your provider prescribes an antibiotic for you, it's important that you take your whole prescription. That's true even if you feel better before you're done. Failing to finish your antibiotic course as directed might keep your STD from being cured and it might also make it far more difficult to treat your STD next time due to antibiotic resistance.

Your Partner Didn't Get Treated

If you have a consistent sexual partner, it's important to tell them about your infection so they can get treatment, too. Once you've both gotten treated, you have to wait until the treatment has had time to work before you start having sex again (particularly unprotected sex).

Without taking these important steps, it is possible for the two of you to end up passing the STD back and forth.

Being Exposed to Another STD

Being successfully treated for chlamydia, gonorrhea, or another STD does not protect you from other STDs In fact, many people become infected with STDs over and over again because they continue to have unprotected sex with partners who have untreated STDs.

If you've been treated for an STD and don't want to get another one, the best thing that you can do is change your behaviors to decrease your risk. That means consistently practicing safe sex and always talking to new partners about STD risk before having sex.

STD-Specific Concerns

Certain STDs pose additional problems that can make them likely to have an encore. If you've been diagnosed with any of these, it's important to keep the following in mind.

Chlamydia

A significant number of people who have been diagnosed with and treated for chlamydia will get the infection again after treatment. This can be due to repeated exposure.

Research using animal models suggests that chlamydia may be able to hide out in the gut and re-emerge, which could be another reason why chlamydia can come back after treatment. 

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is treatable with antibiotics, but antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is starting to become a public health crisis. You may need to have your infection tested for susceptibility to treatment or come back after treatment to see if it worked.

Over time, it has become more difficult to find affordable antibiotics that can consistently and effectively treat gonorrhea. That means people seeking treatment may need to be treated with more expensive antibiotics.

Syphilis

As with the other bacterial STDs, syphilis can be treated effectively. However, a variety of factors have been shown to affect how well the treatment works. These include the stage of your syphilis infection, how often you use condoms, and whether or not you have HIV.

In general, syphilis treatment is effective if the infection is caught early, and when you have a healthy immune system.

Trichomoniasis

Around the world, trichomoniasis is the most common curable STD. However, with the standard single-dose treatment, repeat infections occur somewhat frequently.

Research shows that recurrence occurs around half as frequently with multi-dose treatments for trichomoniasis. Multi-dose trichomoniasis treatment is now the standard regimen for women with HIV. However, it is available for HIV-negative women as well. 

The other issue with trichomoniasis is that men are generally not tested, and therefore, are not usually treated, for the disease. While infections are generally less serious in men, they do need to be treated so that men won't keep from re-infecting their female partners.

A Word From Verywell

No one wants to see an STD come back after treatment. Fortunately, most of the STDs that are curable with antibiotics are also preventable by practicing safe sex.

Using condoms, dental dams, and other barriers to make your sex life safer is an effective way to prevent bacterial STDs. However, it's important to use them consistently—for vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse.

While it's best to practice prevention strategies all the time, if you skipped it or never used it, you start up again next time. STDs aren't necessarily transmitted every time you have sex, so it's never too late to start doing things more safely.

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