Bacteria live everywhere, and our body is full of them, many of them being beneficial for our health. Viruses can only survive in a living host. In terms of treatment, perhaps the most important distinction between the two is that ‘bad’ bacteria can usually be killed with antibiotic drugs, whereas antibiotics have no effect on viruses.
There are several different kinds of bacterial infection, and symptoms will vary depending on the bacteria causing the problem. It is also important to remember that bacterial infections include things like colds and flus, and that these will present with their own sets of symptoms. As a rule, some typical symptoms of a bacterial infection in the genital area or reproductive organs include:
- Abnormal discharge from the vagina
- Penile discharge
- Pain on urination (dysuria)
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
Some bacterial infections, such as chlamydia and non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU), do not present with symptoms. Some conditions have different symptom presentations for men and women. It is more common for NGU to go undetected in women, for example, because the symptoms tend to show up only in men (these include a painful or burning sensation when urinating, the tip of the penis feeling irritated and sore, and a cloudy or white penile discharge.
In terms of sexual health, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common bacterial infection for women, and urethritis is the most common condition diagnosed in men, with 80,000 cases diagnosed every year (although urethritis is not always caused by bacteria).
Other types of bacterial infection include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which develops when a bacterial infection grows and spreads from the genital area up into the uterus or fallopian tubes.
It is always best to speak to a doctor if you notice anything out of the ordinary, or even just if you are worried about a symptom you have noticed. This is especially important if your symptoms are causing physical or emotional distress. Infections of all kinds are extremely common. There is nothing to feel embarrassed about. It is much scarier not to know about a possible infection than it is to get an accurate diagnosis and course of treatment.