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How do you tell whether it is an STI or UTI?

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An illustration of how Urinary infection attacks ladies. Internet images.
An illustration of how Urinary infection attacks ladies. Internet images.

It is really hard to tell anyone that you have an infection in your private parts mainly because of all the obvious reasons, they will think it is a sexually transmitted infection and judge you for promiscuity, especially in the event that you are not married.

Ms Patricia Nakibuuka (not real name) is a fourth year student of Law at Makerere University. She has no boyfriend and is not sexually active, but was amazed when the doctor told her she had a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI).

Ms Nakibuuka developed a little rash on her feet which became bigger whenever she scratched it. It reached a point that she could not wear closed shoes because her foot got really swollen and looked bad, oozing of some sticky pus-like fluid.

“From where could I have gotten an STI? I am not sexually active and do not plan to be until I’m married. I still cannot believe that I was treated for such a disease,” Nakibuuka said.

Many ladies often find themselves in similar situations and they just cannot explain how they ended up with an STI. Perhaps there is confusion about STIs and Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs).

According to Dr. John Mark Mpungu from Rita’s Medical Center in Wandegeya, STIs can only be transmitted through sex.

Mpungu says a UTI is bacterial infection of the bladder, also known as cystitis, caused by bacteria multiplying in the urine. It is not sexually transmitted.

What causes UTIs?

According to Dr. Mpungu, the biggest cause of UTIs is exposure to any contaminated surface; it can be body, toilet or latrine. He said both men and women are likely to get a UTI if their private parts get in contact with the splashing water, body of the toilet or any materials on or in the toilet/latrine.

UTIs. Dr. Mpungu says poor hygiene also causes UTIs but this affects mostly ladies. “While men are able to shake off the remaining urine, some ladies just wear the knickers and leave. A lady is expected to dry herself after every visit to the toilet,” he said.

Poor diet is another cause of UTIs, especially taking little water. Dr. Mpungu said that lack of enough water makes urine concentrated giving bacteria food to flourish, hence a UTI.

“Bad behaviors especially during sexual intercourse where people use their organs in an unsafe way also causes these infections. For instance touching the person’s organs and pushing fingers into the vagina forgetting that the urethra is nearby,” Dr. Mpungu said.

How do you know you have a UTI?

UTIs are divided into upper Urinary Tract Infections and Lower Urinary Tract Infections. An Upper UTI according to Dr. Mpungu begins from the bladder upwards towards the ureter and kidneys.  A lower UTI begins from the urethra.

Some of the common upper UTIs are; Pyelonephritis, Nephritis, and Cystisis.  The most common lower UTI is Urethritis.

Major symptoms of UTIs according to Dr. Mpungu are;

Frequent urinating yet in small quantities, pain during urinating, feeling of a burning sensation during urinating, lower abdominal pain and back ache.

“Fever can come in depending on the period a person has spent with the infection. It can be a mild or acute. When the infection is severe, a person will get fever and severe or tender abdominal pain and headache,” Dr. Mpungu said.

How do you know it is an STI and not a UTI?

Common STIs are; Candidiasis, Urethritis, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, genital warts, Trichomoniasis, Hepatitis B and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

“Most STIs produce a discharge which a UTI does not. The only infection on both sides is Urethritis because it produces pus in its late stages,” Dr. Mpungu said.

The other major difference between the two is whereas a UTI can be transmitted through sex and other means, an STI is only transmitted through sex.  However, Dr. Mpungu said that Candidiasis though an STI, can also be picked from a dirty place.

According to Dr. Mpungu, whereas it is possible to tell the difference between a UTI and STI amongst women, it is impossible amongst men. He also said that it is not a UTI or STI because of where t is found but rather because of the nature of infection.

Pre-disposing factors 

Pregnancy is a predisposing factor for acquiring a UTI. Dr. Mpungu said that pregnant women are more likely to get UTIs because their uterus is sitting on the bladder which makes the urine not to empty completely.

Other predisposing factors for both men and women are promiscuity, poor hygiene, abuse of anti-biotics, and diseases such as renal stones; especially amongst men.


According to Dr. Mpungu, one can avoid UTIs by drinking enough water so that urine is dilute, thoroughly cleaning toilets, latrines and bathrooms, good sexual behavior, circumcision and urinating whenever one feels like.










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