Sexually transmitted infections, shortened as STIs, often referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are quite common. Research shows, in 2018, over 68 million people are were living with STIs, and there is a high possibility of several STI cases going unreported, which means the number of infected persons is likely higher. So lots of people go through STD testing in every year.
Most STIs do not present symptoms, and in most cases, when symptoms occur, they are non-specific, making them go unnoticed for long. This means that most infected persons do not get treatment for STIs early. In addition, the stigma surrounding STIs usually discourage many people from getting tested for STDs to know their status.
Untreated STIs can lead to severe health issues, including infertility and cancer. Testing for an STI is the only way to be certain whether you have an STI or not. Below, you will find information on who needs an STI test, where you can get it and other common questions about STIs.
Who needs STI testing?
Getting an STI test is necessary if you are sexually active. STI testing is especially important in the following situations.
- You want to start a new relationship
- You and your partner what to start having sex without condoms
- You have several sex partners
- Your partner cheated on you or has several partners
- You experience symptoms common with STIs.
If you’ve been in a mutually monogamous relationship, and you and your partner got tested before the relationship, you may not need to test for STIs regularly. However, many people in a long-term relationship did not get tested before they started the relationship.
In this case, you or your partner may have carried an STI for several years. This makes getting tested a safe option.
What STI tests should you carry out?
Different STIs affect many people, so consult your doctor to know which you need to get tested for. Your doctor may recommend testing for one or more of the following STIs.
- Hepatitis B
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
Your doctor will likely not offer you a herpes test except you have known exposure to it or requested the test.
Consult your doctor
Assuming that your doctor will ask you to carry out a test for all STIs during your annual sexual or physical health check-up is wrong. Most doctors do not ask their patients to carry out regular STI testing. Ensure you ask your doctor before an STI testing which tests they recommend and why.
When it concerns your sexual health, you don’t need to feel shy. If you have concerns about a symptom of infection, ensure you consult your doctor. Being honest about your symptoms and sexual history is necessary to get better treatment.
Getting screened for STIs is also necessary if you are pregnant because STIs can affect the foetus. The doctor will screen you for STIs and other conditions during the first prenatal visit.
You need to get tested for STIs if someone forced you to have intercourse or any sexual activity. Ensure you seek immediate care from a trained medical professional if you were forced to engage in any sexual activity or experienced sexual assault.
Discuss your risk factors
Sharing your sexual risk factors with your doctor is important. This is particularly important if you have anal sex.
The standard STI tests cannot detect some anal STIs, so your doctor may recommend an anal Pap smear which screens for precancerous and cancerous cells resulting from human papillomavirus (HPV).
Ensure you inform your doctor about the following.
- Your current medications
- Types of protection used during anal, vaginal and oral sex
- Whether you or your partner have multiple sex partners ‘
- A known or suspected exposure to STIs
Where can I get STI tests?
You can carry out STI testing at the following places.
- Your doctor’s office – quick STI testing are available at most doctor’s offices.
- Planned Parenthood clinics
- Local health clinics
- Gum clinic
- At home
Some STIs are notifiable diseases. This means your doctor is legally obligated to report a positive result to the government because they need the information to create public health initiatives.
Notifiable STIs include the following.
Online and at-home tests are available for some STIs. However, they may not always be reliable.
Your doctor may recommend different checks for STIs, depending on different factors such as your sexual health history.
Blood and urine tests
Blood and urine samples are required for most STI tests. The doctor may order blood or urine tests to check for the following STIs.
Sometimes, blood and urine tests are not as accurate as other STI testing options, and it may take about a month or more after exposure to the STI before a blood test can detect it.
For example, when someone gets infected with HIV, it may take weeks to months before a blood test can detect the infection.
Most doctors use cervical, urethral or vaginal swabs to test for STIs. For people with a vagina, the doctor will use a cotton applicator to take cervical and vaginal swabs while carrying out a pelvic exam. For both people with a vagina or penis, the doctor can insert a cotton applicator into the urethra to take urethral swabs.
If you engage in anal sex, the doctor may take a rectal swab sample to check for infections in the rectum.
Pap smears and HPV testing
A Pap smear test is not an STI test, but it checks for early anal or cervical cancer signs. Females who experience persistent HPV infections, especially HPV-16 and HPV-18 infections, have a higher risk of having cervical cancer. People engaging in anal sex can contract HPV infections which may lead to anal cancer.
Getting a normal Pap smear result doesn’t say whether you have an STI or not. If the doctor wants to carry out an HPV check, they will order an HPV test.
However, an abnormal Pap smear result may not indicate anal or cervical cancer. In most cases, abnormal Pap smears do not need treatment because they resolve on their own.
If your Pap smear result is abnormal, the doctor may suggest HPV testing, and if this test is negative, you’re unlikely to develop anal or cervical cancer.
Carrying out HPV tests alone isn’t sufficient to predict cancer. Health experts report that most people contract HPV every year, and most sexually active persons will contract at least one type of HPV sometime in their life. A high percentage of these infections do not result in anal or cervical cancer.
STIs such as genital warts and herpes require a physical examination and some tests to diagnose the infection. Your doctor may perform a physical examination, checking for bumps, sores and other STI signs.
The doctor can take samples from areas that show symptoms of the STI for testing in the laboratory. Ensure you inform your doctor if you notice changes around your genitals or inside. You also have to look out for changes in or around your rectum and anus if you have anal sex.
For your STI testing, visit Private GPs London or call to schedule an appointment. You can also visit our clinic if you’ve been searching for a genitourinary clinic in London.
Frequently asked questions on STI testing
How much do tests for STI cost?
The cost of an STI test depends on different factors such as your insurance, income and where you want to get tested. Most insurance plans offer low-cost or free STI testing.
Who should carry out STD testing?
Health experts recommend the following:
- HIV testing for anyone between 13 – 64 years
- HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis testing for pregnant women
- Yearly chlamydia and gonorrhoea testing for sexually active women below 25
- Yearly chlamydia and gonorrhoea for women above 21 with multiple sex partners or a sex partner who has an STD.
- Yearly HIV testing for anyone who has sex without a barrier method
- HIV, chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhoea testing every 3 – 6 months for sexually active men
How long does STI testing take?
The time required for an STI test depends on the type of test, but most STI tests that require a blood, saliva or urine sample take a couple of minutes. Some STI test results can be available within 20 minutes, but some can take about a week.