So you have had unprotected sex and now you are worried about being exposed to STDs. STD testing does not really have to be a discussion made on a dinner table, but if it comes up, how are you going to handle it? Every person who is sexually active should get tested for STDs at some point, especially after they have had unprotected sex. However, which tests, and when mainly depends on their personal risk factors. Oftentimes screening is not necessary. But if it is recommended, and you do get diagnosed with sexually transmitted infection – don’t panic! Most of the STDs are curable, and all of them can be treated.
Is There Any Difference Between Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Sexually Transmitted Infections?
STDs are generally referred to as sexually transmitted infections. Most providers use this terminology since there’s lesser stigma linked to the word infection. It is possible to catch an infection without noticeable symptoms, and the infection may further cause disease in the future. In the absence of symptoms, the only way to diagnose an STI is to get yourself screened for it.
Most Common Sexually Transmitted Diseases
- Chlamydia and Gonorrhea – These infections are quite common and are usually grouped together because they are tested at the same time. The infection can be missed, especially in women as the bacteria that cause them does not always show any symptoms. These infections are caused by anal, oral, or genital contact with someone who already has this infection.
- Human Papillomavirus – Commonly called the HPV is the most commonly occurring STI in the U.S. The virus causes genital warts, though the lesions do not show up in everyone who contracts HPV. It is an easily sexually transmitted and contagious disease which can even spread by skin-to-skin contact. While the genital warts are present, doctors generally make a diagnosis from inspection, however; further screening is quite useful and may include colposcopy or biopsy in women.
- Herpes – Herpes virus has two different strains: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 virus has conventionally been linked with cold sores or oral herpes whereas type 2 has genital herpes, but a recent study shows that most of the genital infections are caused by type 1 herpes virus. An individual may get either strain of the virus and never show any symptoms or may have ‘outbreaks’ with painful sores near their genitals, mouth, lips, or anus. Herpes is the most commonly transmitted diseases through contact with infectious sores. However, in most cases, it can be transmitted when an infected individual shows no symptoms at all. Because an individual can be contagious though they do not show any lesions, taking precautionary measures only when there are visible warts may not prevent the spread of the disease to the partner.
- Syphilis – It is a bacterial infection transmitted from one individual to another via genital, anal, or oral contact with infectious yet painless sores that show up at the initial stages of the infection.
- HIV – HIV is a viral infection that is passed onto an individual through blood or sexually, by having unprotected vaginal or anal sex. It rarely can be transmitted by coming in contact with other body fluids of the infected person.
- Hepatitis B – It is a viral infection, transmitted by semen or blood, which causes liver diseases.
- Hepatitis C – It is also a viral infection that is passed onto an individual generally through blood or even via skin exposure, for instance, sharing needles or coming into contact with open sore or wounds. Very rarely, hepatitis C can be transmitted by having unprotected sex with someone who already has it. The risk of transmissions is around 1 per 190,000 sexual occurrences. This infection causes chronic liver disease and even liver cancer.
What Is STD Screening All About?
Getting yourself screened for STDs means that you will be examined for a sexually transmitted infection after you have had unprotected sex. You may not have any prominent systems. It is very much like you get a mammogram or get yourself tested for colon cancer; it is also crucial to test for sexually transmitted infections depending on specific risk factors. There are perhaps no exact recommended tests or times for everyone. These screening recommendations mainly depend on your risk level and lifestyle.
Why Is It Crucial To Get Screened For STDs?
Most imperatively, get screened to protect yourself, your partner(s), and to stay informed on your health condition. Getting a diagnosis alerts you about the infection that you may not know you had initially. For instance, many people today in the U.S. have hepatitis C, perhaps around 1 million, who do not have any idea that they have been already infected. Not knowing that you have contracted sexually transmitted infection could lead to long-term effects such as infertility. Getting screened allows you to start off with your treatment immediately and ensure great peace of mind when you think you perhaps have been at risk.
What Types Of Tests Are Available Today?
There are a number of tests that make being informed about your health a lot more accessible, but there is no single test for every STI. Most tests require a blood or urine sample, or even a swab of the infected area. If you have a sore and want to know its actual cause, a swab can further help identify whether a certain bacteria or virus is present. There are also ‘rapid’ HIV test kits available that you can buy for home use only. The results are available in max 20 minutes.
What Should You Be Screened For And When?
Some people say you should get yourself tested for everything. Generally, you should get yourself tested for STIs after you have unprotected sex. Though it may seem to make sense initially, it is imperative to consult your physician about your specific risk factors and lifestyle. There are a few downsides to screening for everything that are crucial to consider.
First and foremost, STI tests are expensive, and in a few cases, such as blood tests for herpes, a positive result can be a false positive. False positives may cause unnecessary panics when there may be literally no risks of contracting an STI and no required treatment.
Below are some of the instances that would require you to have a screening test:
- When you are sexually active – every individual who is sexually active should get themselves screened at some point. HIV test is highly recommended for sexually active individuals. Moreover, women should get screened for Chlamydia and gonorrhea, because, unlike men, they usually harbor these STIs without developing any prominent symptoms. Always remember to practice safe sex and stay in a monogamous relationship, if so, you will have to get yourself screened less frequently.
- Unprotected Sex – If you start having unprotected sex, be it anal, vaginal or oral with a new partner, without using dental dams or condoms, it is best to get yourself tested. Here is how long after you have been exposed to an infection can get you reliable test results:
- 2 weeks – Chlamydia and gonorrhea
- 1 week to up to 3 months – Syphilis
- 6 weeks to 3 months - HIV, Hepatitis B, and C
There is generally no screening for herpes virus as most people experience an outbreak of sores on their genitals.
- You are in riskier relationships – If your partner has chronic infection, such as Hepatitis B or C, or HIV, it is imperative for you to get yourself screened a lot more frequently. If you are in an open relationship, or you are not sure that your partner is monogamous, this is when you should get screened regularly. In general, this means you should get tested for STDs every 6 months or even more depending on your situation.
- You engage yourself in a high-risk sexual behavior – High-risk sexual behavior mainly includes having intimate contact with a sex worker, multiple partners, IV drug user, men who have sex with men, or anonymous partners. In such scenarios, you make yourself at a higher risk for contracting hepatitis C, HIV, along with Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and Syphilis and should get tested after you have had sex, be it anal, vaginal or even oral sex.
- You had an infection in the past – You perhaps be more likely to catch an infection again, so you should get yourself tested after you have had unprotected sex. Generally, it should be done about 3 months after you have been treated if you happen to be sexually active.
- You have symptoms – This is the right time for you to consult a physician. Your history and symptoms will allow you to make the best choice regarding the most informative tests you should look for possible causes of your symptoms.
- Baby Boomers – As many baby boomers (people born between 1945 to 1965) may have contracted hepatitis C infection before they even got to know about the virus existed and could screen for it, and because they may not show any symptoms, it is recommended that all baby boomers be screened at least once for hepatitis C.