Sexually transmitted diseases are common, but the types of STD testing you need may vary by your risk factors. Find out what’s recommended for you.
If you’re sexually active, particularly with multiple partners, you’ve probably heard the following advice many times: Use protection and get tested.
This is important because a person can have a sexually transmitted disease without knowing it. In many cases, there aren’t any signs or symptoms. In fact, that’s why many experts prefer the term sexually transmitted infections (STIs), because you can have an infection without disease symptoms.
But what types of STI testing do you need? And how often should you be screened? The answers depend on your age, your sexual behaviors and other risk factors. If you think you need STI testing, request it from your doctor. Talk to your doctor about your concerns and what tests you’d like or need.
Here are some guidelines for STI testing for specific sexually transmitted infections.
Get screened annually if:
Chlamydia and gonorrhea screening is done either through a urine test or through a swab inside the penis in men or from the cervix in women. The sample is then analyzed in a laboratory. Screening is important, because if you don’t have signs or symptoms, you can be unaware that you have either infection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages HIV testing, at least once, as a routine part of medical care if you’re an adolescent or adult between the ages of 13 and 64. Younger teens should be tested if they have a high risk of an STI. The CDC advises yearly HIV testing if you are at high risk of infection.
Hepatitis C screening is recommended for everyone born between 1945 and 1965. The incidence of hepatitis C is high in this age group, and the disease often has no symptoms until it’s advanced. Vaccines are available for both hepatitis A and B if screening shows you haven’t been exposed to these viruses.
Request testing for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis if you:
Your doctor tests you for syphilis by taking either a blood sample or a swab from any genital sores you might have. The sample is examined in a laboratory. A blood sample is taken to test for HIV and hepatitis.
No good screening test exists for herpes, a viral infection that can be transmitted even when a person doesn’t have symptoms. Your doctor may take a tissue scraping or culture of blisters or early ulcers, if you have them, for examination in a laboratory. But a negative test doesn’t rule out herpes as a cause for genital ulcerations.
A blood test also may help detect a past herpes infection, but results aren’t always conclusive. Some blood tests can help differentiate between the two main types of the herpes virus.
Type 1 is the virus that more typically causes cold sores, although it can also cause genital sores. Type 2 is the virus that causes genital sores more often. Still, the results may not be totally clear, depending on the sensitivity of the test and the stage of the infection. False-positive and false-negative results are possible.
Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer while other varieties of HPV can cause genital warts. Many sexually active people become infected with HPV at some point in their lives, but never develop symptoms. The virus typically disappears within two years.
There’s no routinely used HPV screening test for men, in whom the infection is diagnosed by visual inspection or biopsy of genital warts. In women, HPV testing involves:
HPV has also been linked to cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and mouth and throat. Vaccines can protect both men and women from some types of HPV, but they are most effective when administered before sexual activity begins.
If you test positive for an STI, the next step is to consider further testing and then get treatment as recommended by your doctor. In addition, inform your sex partners. Your partners need to be evaluated and treated, because you can pass some infections back and forth.
Expect to feel various emotions. You may feel ashamed, angry or afraid. It may help to remind yourself that you’ve done the right thing by getting tested so that you can inform your partners and get treated. Talk with your doctor about your concerns.
Dr. Sharmila Majumdar
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