STD Testing – How To Test & Check For STD
Going for STD testing might feel embarrassing, but the reality is: if you’re sexually active, you should be taking regular STD tests. Sexually transmitted diseases or STDs are one of the most common infectious diseases. Some of them, if left untreated, can even be life-threatening.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 8 out of 10 infectious diseases in America are sexually transmitted. The United States has an alarmingly 50-100% higher rate of STDs than any industrialized country, or around 12,000 reported cases a year. It is estimated that 1 out 4 members of the general American population will be affected by an STD at some point in their life.
Worldwide, the latest statistics are from a 2001 report by the World Health Organization. The report estimated that there are around 340 million cases of syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis all over the world in 1999. The largest number of new STD infections is from South and Southeast Asia.
And yes, the non-curable STD HIV-AIDS remains rampant. In 2009, it is estimated that around 35 million people are living with the disease, with as many as around 3 million getting infected per year. The good news is: as access to antiretroviral drugs improve, the rate of mortality from HIV-AIDS lowers. New HIV infections have also dropped 17% from the past year.
STD Screening – Should One Go For a STD Test?
If you’re sexually active, it’s always a good idea to have routine STD testing. This is especially advisable if you belong to at-risk populations for STD, such as persons with multiple partners and persons who use intravenous (IV) drugs. You may already have an STD and not know it. This is because some STDs don’t have symptoms and some STDs have symptoms that can be easily mistaken for other infections.
Knowledge of the symptoms of known STDs is critical to get timely STD testing. As soon as you suspect that you have contracted a sexually transmitted infection, consult your health care professional.
Who Should Get Tested?
Individual who are sexually active or meet any of the following criteria should go get tested for STDs:
- Individuals who had unprotected sex with a new partner in the past 60 days.
- Individuals who had sexual contact with someone who is recently tested positive for STD or has a history of STD in the past 12 months.
- Individuals who had a sexual relationship with a partner but do not know whether the partner is infected.
- Individuals who had previously share needles or have had sex with someone who uses illegal intravenous drugs.
- Women who are planning to get pregnant or are already pregnant.
- Individuals who are not yet vaccinated for the hepatitis B virus.
How Does One Get Tested for STDs?
It’s important to note that regular medical check-ups rarely include testing for STDs. This implies that even if your general physician gives you a clean bill of health, you’re not necessarily free from sexually transmitted disease. In fact, STDs are only detected during general medical checkups when observable symptoms are present.
To get STD testing, you have to explicitly request one from your medical professional. Your doctor would first have to interview you, inquire about your sexual history, conduct a visual inspection, and assess symptoms in order to point you to the correct STD test.
Where Can One Get An STD Test?
As previously mentioned, your physician should be able to direct you to the exact tests that you are looking for. It also wouldn’t hurt to consult STD specialists for your specific needs. Aside from your doctor, you can also inquire from your local health department for STD testing.
There are also medical laboratories that specialize in anonymous STD testing in every local state. The main advantage of going for anonymous testing is that your lab tests results are 100% private and will not appear on either your medical records or insurance records.
And then there are home STD kits. The name is a bit misleading, as the test is not conducted purely at home. Instead, home STD kits allow patients to get necessary urine or swab samples for testing which they have to send to a medical laboratory to be analyzed. Still, home STD kits allow for certain privacy during the process, and some manufacturers of the kit provide for counseling while the patient waits for results.
There is, however, a downside to home STD kits – they run the risk of false positives if you’re not careful with how you obtain samples. To be certain, always confirm with a clinic-conducted STD test any positives you get from a home testing kit.
Which STD Tests Do I Need?
There is no one screening test for all STDs, and there are more than 20 known STDs today. To be able to get the right one, visit your doctor and tell him or her your sexual history and the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. It might be embarrassing, but with this information your doctor can give you recommendations on how you can go about your STD testing.
If you’re sexually active, it’s important that you take the most important STD tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV at least once a year. These diseases are often contracted even without the person knowing. STD tests that you can take only when you suspect you’ve been exposed to them include tests for trichomoniasis, genital herpes, Hepatitis B, chancroid, and bacterial vaginosis. If you’re pregnant, it’s important that you take tests for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and bacterial vaginosis as they are risks to be passed to infants upon birth.
How Are STD Tests Done?
There are different STD testing procedures per type of STD you’re screening for.
In general, STDS are detected by taking samples from the infected area and analyzing them in a laboratory. Syphilis, for example, is detected by swabbing a Syphilis sore with cotton and sending the sample to a laboratory technician. Sometimes, a culture of the bacteria, virus or protozoa has to be first made to determine whether or not a person is positive for STD.
Some STDs can be diagnosed using pelvic and physical exam. Genital herpes, for example, may be characterized by painless ulcers in the genitals. An experienced physician should be able to tell whether an outbreak is typical of herpes.
Another common form of STD testing is conducted via a blood test. A laboratory technician can look for natural antibodies against known bacteria and viruses that cause sexually-transmitted diseases.
Urine tests can also detect some STDs.
How Long Does It Take To Get Results?
How long it takes to get results depend on the type of tests you’ve taken, but in general 48 hours should be enough to get results of a laboratory test. Most testing involves taking samples and viewing them under a microscope to see if infectious bacteria, virus or protozoa exists in the sample. Tests that take longer are culture tests, where the lab technician has to grow organisms in the sample to be able to analyze results. These types of tests can take up to 10 days.
STD Testing Quick Reference Guide
- HIV – The most common test for HIV is the application of EIA (enzyme immunoassay) on a blood sample to detect antibodies to HIV. Also available are oral fluid tests and urine tests.
- Chlamydia – Testing for Chlamydia can be done by laboratory testing swabs inside the penis or cervix. You can also test for Chlamydia using a urine test.
- Genital Warts – Genital are usually diagnosed by through visual inspection, but sometimes scrapings of the warts are examined under a microscope. If warts reappear, a doctor may recommend that the patient take a biopsy to rule out cancer.
- Gonorrhea – Gonorrhea can be tested through a urine test to help classify the bacteria in the urethra. It can also be diagnosed through a laboratory testing of a swab of the infected area.
- Herpes – Herpes can be diagnosed using visual infection during outbreaks, or through laboratory testing of swabs of infected areas. In between outbreaks or when there are no symptoms, a blood test or DNA test is used.
- HPV – In women, STD testing for HPV can be conducted using a Pap test, which inspect the cervix for abnormal cells. There are also HPV tests that can be conducted on samples from the cervical canal, but this is only used for women under 30 years old. There’s no HPV test available for men at present; the condition is diagnosed in men through visual inspection or biopsy of genital warts.
- Syphilis – Syphilis can be tested by analyzing in a laboratory a sample of a Syphilis sore. Bloods test and Spinal Fluid test can also detect Syphilis.
- Trichomoniasis – STD testing for trichomoniasis is done by taking a sample of the discharge from the vagina or the opening of the penis. Trichomoniasis, however, tends to be under-diagnosed in men because current tests are not yet sensitive enough to detect the condition, as males tend to manifest milder symptoms than women.
- Yeast Infection – Yeast infections are commonly diagnosed by physical exam – visual and olfactory inspection can be enough to tell that one has yeast infection. Sometime swabs of the discharge from the vagina are sent to laboratories for STD testing.