Can I Get the Same STD a Second Time?

Chlamydia is an STD.
Chlamydia. Science Picture Co./Collection Mix:Subjects/Getty Images

Many people wonder if having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) once means that they can't get it again. They don't know whether STDs are diseases like the chicken pox that you get once and then are done with or diseases like the common cold that you get over and over again.

The answer, to some extent, depends on the STD. There are some STDs that you can contract over and over again. There are others that you get once and are infected with for life. There are also a few STDs which you can become immune to after vaccination, but they're the exception rather than the rule.

STDs You Can Repeatedly

Most bacterial and parasitic STDs are relatively easy to treat. They're also easy to catch again after treatment. That's why, when you have a treatable STD, most doctors recommend that you refrain from sex until both you and your partner have completed treatment and sometimes longer.

If you don't wait until the treatment has had time to clear all of the infectious organisms from both of your bodies, or at least consistently practice safer sex, you and your partner could just keep passing the disease back and forth between you.

Here are bacterial and parasitic STDs that you can get more than once:

Viral STDs That Aren't Permanent

Many viral STDs last a lifetime. However, there are some viral diseases that the body can kick on its own, like human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis. Once you have gotten rid of such an infection, you're less likely to be reinfected with the same strain of the virus. Still, reinfection is possible. It's also possible to be infected with a different strain of either of these viruses. There are over 100 types of HPV, more than 30 of which can be transmitted sexually. There are also several different types of hepatitis. Therefore, even if a past infection completely eliminated susceptibility to one strain, you would still be at significant risk to pick up another type.

Note: Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are both preventable by vaccination. The nine most common cancer-causing strains of HPV are preventable by the vaccine as well, as are the two types most likely to cause genital warts.

STDs That Stick Around

In general, the symptoms of viral STDs may be treatable. However, the diseases themselves are difficult or impossible to cure. Once you have a disease like HIV, oral herpes, or genital herpes, it's usually with you for life. You never truly get rid of these viral infections, although they may lie dormant for years, or even decades.

It's also important to know that, although they generally clear up on their own, hepatitis and HPV can also set up long-term, chronic infections. Whether you kick such viral infections or they become chronic depends on a number of factors, including the health of your immune system.

The Take Home Message

It's possible to become immune to certain STDs. However, this is primarily achieved through vaccination. Therefore, in general, it's best to assume that if you've gotten an STD once, you can get it again.

Some common ways that people get reinfected include:

  • Failing to finish STD treatment. If you don't take all of your antibiotics, you may not fully get rid of an infection. In addition, failing to finish your medication can cause problems such as antibiotic resistance. That's a serious problem. Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea may one day turn what is currently a relatively uncomplicated infection into one that is extraordinarily difficult, or even impossible, to cure.
  • Not making sure a partner gets tested and treated after learning about an infection. If only one member of a sexual partnership gets tested and treated, the other may remain infected without knowing it. Then, even if the first person is successfully treated, they can become reinfected during sex.
  • Failing to consistently have safe sex until treatment is finished. If you're sexually active during STD treatment, there is a possibility that you could transmit your current infection to any sexual partners. That's why it's important to always have safe sex while you're treating an STD, and preferably avoid sex entirely until treatment is done. If you don't, the person you gave the infection to could pass it right back to you once you've been cured.
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