If STIs and STDs can be described by only one word, then the perfect word would probably be “sneaky”. Many people think that they would know if they have it, but in reality, several diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea may show no symptoms. Although we may think that STDs come with horrifying symptoms such as sores and rash on the genital area and sometimes around the mouth, we can never be sure if we are free from them until we get tested. Getting tested is the only way to be certain of our current sexual health status.
Who should get tested?
Sexually active people should get tested regularly. In fact, incorporating STD tests to your healthcare routine is highly recommended as it also protects your partner’s sexual health. The ultimate goals of STD tests are to keep your sexual health in tiptop condition, prevent the disease from progressing to later stages and avoid spreading the disease to others. Below are the specifications of STD screening recommendations based on age group, status and lifestyle:
- Adolescents and adults: Every person from ages 13 to 64 needs to be tested for HIV at least once or even more if they are more at risk
- Sexually active women: Sexually active women under the age of 25 have to get screened for gonorrhea and chlamydia at least once a year. This is also recommended to women older than 25 years old who have multiple sexual partners or those who are at risk for being exposed to STDs
- Sexually active straight men: Every sexually active man should try to get screened at least once a year as part of health routine and those who are more at risk and have multiple sexual partners should do STD testing more often (once every six months)
- Pregnant women: While pregnant, women have to be tested for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B. Some women may also need to get screened for gonorrhea and chlamydia if they have additional risk factors
- Practicing unsafe sex and injectable drugs: Any person who shares equipment such as syringe and needles and has sex without condoms should be tested for HIV at least once a year and also consider HIV PrEP. If you happen to be in this group and suspect exposure within the last 72 hours, go for a consultation for HIV PEP immediately.
- Sexually active gay and bisexual men: Anyone that belongs to this group should get screened for chlamydia, syphilis, HIV and gonorrhea at least once a year. More frequent testing is also encouraged
You may want to get tested but are wondering which test is right for you, what to expect, how the test is performed and when to get the test results. Most STD tests are easy and the results usually will appear in 2 or 3 days although some may need up to a week or more for definitive results. For that reason, we have compiled some of the most common and important STD tests to ease your confusion.
- Chlamydia and gonorrhea
- Screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea can be done by taking a swab of the genital area (inside the penis for men and from the cervix for women) or testing the urine sample
- Screening for these two diseases is encouraged for sexually active women under and above 25 years old, women with multiple partners, HIV-positive people, men who have sex with men and people who were forced to have sex against their will
- People usually get the results in 1 to 3 days
- HIV, hepatitis & syphilis
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends HIV testing for every person between the ages of 13 and 64 as a regular part of medical care. People who are more at risk for being exposed to the virus should be tested at least once a year
- People who were born between 1945 and 1965 are encouraged to be tested for hepatitis C since occurrences of the disease are more frequent in this age group. Taking hepatitis A and B vaccines is also beneficial if they have yet to be infected with the viruses
- People who test positive for other STIs, have had more than one partner, are pregnant, are using intravenous drugs and have sex with men should also take the HIV, syphilis and hepatitis tests
- Tests for HIV and hepatitis are done on a blood sample while syphilis tests may need a swab from the infected area
- Rapid HIV tests can show results in approximately 20 minutes, while other forms of tests produce results in a few days to several weeks. Results for syphilis tests show up in 3 to 5 days and test results for hepatitis C can be retrieved in 2 weeks
- Genital herpes
- Instead of a bacterial infection, genital herpes is a viral infection. Unfortunately, the current testing methods are not truly definitive as a negative test result does not automatically mean you are safe from the disease. The results can be a false-positive or a false-negative
- Herpes tests are performed by blood tests or swabs from infected areas
- Some tests for people with symptoms also include taking a blister, ulcer or tissue
- Some blood tests are able to determine the type of herpes a person has (type 1 causes cold sores and genital sores while type 2 causes genital sores)
- Results for a rapid viral culture can take 2 to 3 days while a standard culture may take up to 14 days
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- There are several strains or types of HPV virus. Some are not malignant and only cause genital warts while some strains, notably the 16 and 18, cause 70% of cervical cancers
- At some point of their lives, people may get infected with HPV yet never have symptoms. The virus normally goes away in 2 years
- Screening for men usually only involves visual examination and inspection of genital warts
- Meanwhile, in women, HPV can be detected by a pap smear that examines the cervix in case there are abnormal cells that are associated with ‘high-risk’ HPV types. Pap tests are encouraged to be done once every three years for women who are between 21 and 65.
- Women who are older than 30 years old should also take the HPV test along with pap tests every 5 years if the previous result is good
Knowing your sexual health is paramount to ensuring your overall well being. When it comes to STD testing, never put it off even for a day because if the results are negative, you will have a good night’s sleep and if you are diagnosed with a certain STI, we can always help you with the correct medications. Shim Clinic specialises in STD testing and diagnosis as well as HIV prevention methods such as HIV PEP and HIV PrEP.