Getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is the only way to know for sure if you have an STI. This is because many people with STIs show no symptoms, yet they could be capable of transmitting the disease to others (for example, genital herpes may be transmitted despite the absence of any signs and symptoms in the “asymptomatic viral shedding stage”). Therefore, you should talk to your doctor or nurse about getting tested if you have had any kind of sexual contact (vaginal, anal or oral) that puts you at risk.
You can get tested for STIs at a community health clinic in your vicinity, your doctor’s office or even at the health department. The testing is done under strict rules concerning a person’s privacy. Insurance will generally cover the test costs, though some community outreach programs offer free testing facilities as well. The doctor will take your thorough sexual history, conduct a physical examination and prescribe required tests to diagnose STIs.
You may also use the home testing kits available at the pharmacy, but these may not be as accurate to diagnose STIs as lab tests done by a professional.
How do doctors test for STIs?
Sexually transmitted infection testing may not be a part of your annual medical screening or Pap examination. You may need to discuss your sexual history with your doctor so that they can suggest suitable tests after assessing the risk.
After a thorough analysis of your history and physical examination, the doctor may request the following samples from you to test for STIs:
- Blood sample: No fasting is needed. The blood sample will be tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), syphilis, herpes viral infection and hepatitis B and C. The sample could be tested for viral or bacterial antigens or antibodies that your body produces against these antigens.
- Vaginal or rectal swab: Your doctor may collect secretions from your vaginal area to test for chlamydia, candidiasis and trichomonas infection or from suspected herpes or syphilis sores over your vagina or rectum using a sterile swab. The swab will be then tested for the pathogens.
- Urine sample: Sometimes, examination of a urine sample may help detect STIs, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia or trichomoniasis.
- Pap smear along with HPV testing: Women who are aged older than 30 years can have the human papillomavirus (HPV) test along with a Pap smear every five years. Women between 21 and 30 years old will be given an HPV test if they have had abnormal results on their Pap smear (inflammation or erosion). The test takes a swab from the cervical area and prepares a smear to screen for HPV. Men can get tested for HPV via an anal swab.
Certain tests may require more than one test sample, and the results may be available after 24 to 48 hours.
At-home test kits for STIs
You can test yourself for STIs, such as HIV, gonorrhea and chlamydia, by collecting your own sample (an oral or genital swab, urine sample) in the privacy of your home. Some tests require you to prick yourself, collect a drop of blood and place it over the designated surface in the test kit. This sample collected by you can be sent to a lab for analysis.
These tests may have higher rates of false-positive and false-negative results, which means the test could indicate you have an STI when you don’t have one. If the result from your home test shows positive, you must contact your doctor or a public health clinic to confirm these results. Besides, these tests may also show that you do not have an STI despite the presence of the infection (false-negative tests).
Who should get tested for STIs?
The test for sexually transmitted infection is particularly recommended if:
- You are aged between 13 to 64 years, you must be tested at least one time for HIV
- You are a sexually active woman and aged younger than 25 years
- You are a woman older than 25 years, and you have a new sexual partner or multiple sexual partners
- You are a man who has sex with men (an MSM)
- You have an HIV infection
- You have been compelled to have intercourse or engage in sexual activity against your will
- You are an intravenous drugs user
- You are planning on becoming pregnant or are currently pregnant
- You are a teen with a high-risk behavior
- You have unsafe sex or share needles while doing drugs
- You have had oral and anal sex (you must ask the health care provider about the throat and anal testing options)
What do I do if my STI test results are positive?
Most sexually transmitted infections are completely curable after a proper course of medications. Even HIV can be managed with a dose of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Herpes outbreaks can be prevented or minimized with the initiation of medications at the right time. Therefore, seeking proper treatment and taking the medication as prescribed by your doctor is important.
If you test positive for an STI, you must discuss with your doctor what needs to be done. You may consider further testing to confirm the initial diagnosis and then get treatment as recommended by your doctor. You may also seek counseling if needed. It is important to inform your sexual partners who need to be evaluated and treated as well to prevent the further spread of STIs in the community.
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Mayo Clinic. STD Testing: What's Right for You? https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-diseases-stds/in-depth/std-testing/art-20046019
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