What You Should Know About STD Testing
Reported cases of STDs continue to rise with syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia reaching record-high rates per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2018. While the statistics are alarming, there are ways to protect yourself and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence, vaccination, mutual monogamy, and proper condom use can help decrease or eliminate your risk of contracting an STD. Additionally, whether you’ve engaged in risky sexual behavior or just want peace of mind, STD testing can let you know exactly where you stand so you can receive proper treatment, if necessary:
STDs are transmitted primarily through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected individual.
Testing is the only way to know for sure if you’ve contracted an STD and, if so, which particular disease.
Most STDs are tested using blood, urine, or discharge samples.
Besides physician offices and walk-in health clinics, at-home testing is available for many STDs.
The Basics of STDs
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), sometimes called sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are highly contagious and primarily spread through sexual activity, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Other conditions can also be spread through sexual activity, but for these specific infections, it’s the main route of transmission.
Why Should You Be Tested for STDs?
In their early stages, many STDs are largely asymptomatic, which precipitates their spread by unknowing carriers. Sexually active adolescents and young adults (aged 15 to 24) are at particular risk, with nearly 10 million new infections occurring every year. While prescription medication can easily cure many STDs, these infections can cause serious organ damage, infertility, and danger to unborn children if left untreated. STD testing is the only way to know for sure if you’ve been infected.
How Does STD Testing Work?
STD testing is relatively quick, painless, and reliable. You can be tested at your primary care doctor’s office, urgent care facilities, and health clinics. Additionally, at-home test kits are available that test for one or multiple STDs. Some kits provide rapid results while others require a mailed-in sample and post results to your online account. Regardless, sample collection is fairly similar among the testing sites.
Testing for Syphilis
The typical syphilis testing involves blood work, either from venipuncture or finger stick. Collecting fluid from an open sore is also a possible means of screening for syphilis. If you test positive, another analysis is usually performed to confirm the result. Health clinics, doctors’ offices, and mail-in test kits can all provide you with a reliable conclusion.
Testing for Asymptomatic Genital Herpes
If there are no active herpes sores present, the only way to detect the virus is through a blood sample. Venipuncture or finger prick is the most common method to obtain a blood sample. At-home test kits provide lancets and blood collection devices so you can mail your sample for analysis. Doctors’ offices and clinics will collect the sample and send it to a lab for processing. The CDC does not usually recommend screening for herpes via blood testing in the absence of symptoms.
Testing for Symptomatic Genital Herpes
Active herpes sores provide an excellent vehicle for collecting a sample of the virus. Typically, a swab is gently rotated within the sore to gather pus, and it’s then sent to a lab for testing. If your screening is positive for genital herpes, you should discuss with your doctor how to manage symptoms and prevent spreading the virus to your partner. Active herpes sores can also increase your risk of contracting other STDs. At-home test kits are available.
Testing for Gonorrhea
The location of the gonorrhea infection determines the testing procedure. In most cases, a urine sample is the method of choice for detecting the bacteria in men and women. However, if symptoms point to a throat or rectal infection (from oral or anal sex), it’s best to collect a sample with a swab. At-home testing kits are available.
Testing for Hepatitis
All strains of hepatitis can be tested via a blood sample. Often, a full panel is completed, which tests for hepatitis A, B, and C. You may receive an order from your doctor to go to a walk-in laboratory or visit a health clinic. You can also test at home for hepatitis B and C and mail in your sample for results.
Testing for HIV
There are a variety of ways to test for HIV, including using saliva or a blood sample via venipuncture or finger prick. If the goal is to attempt to detect antibodies soon after exposure, venous blood is best. Finger prick blood and saliva may only show antibodies anywhere from 23 to 90 days after exposure. Rapid at-home tests typically use swabs to test saliva.
Testing for Trichomoniasis
Laboratory personnel can easily identify the parasite that causes trichomoniasis through a microscope. Typical methods of collecting a specimen for examination include first-catch urine samples and urethral swab samples. Urine collection is a much less invasive procedure and is the method of choice for at-home mail-in test kits.
Testing for HPV (Genital Warts)
If genital warts are present, your doctor may be able to make a visual diagnosis, using a magnifying lens if necessary. A solution containing vinegar can be applied to the genital area to make the warts more visible. Biopsies are typically not done on genital warts unless there is unusual coloring.
Testing for HPV (Cervical Cancer)
Similar to a Pap test, your doctor can collect cells from the walls of the vagina or cervix using a long swab. Laboratory personnel will study the specimens to determine the strain of HPV because some types can cause cellular abnormalities that may develop into cervical cancer over time. There are at-home tests available for HPV that include mail-in vaginal swabs.
Testing for Chlamydia
The testing procedure for chlamydia is very similar to that for gonorrhea, and screening procedures often check for the two diseases simultaneously. A urine sample is the easiest way of collecting a specimen, although swab testing is best for possible throat or anal infections. Swabs can also be used to gather discharge in the endocervical canal.
For more information please visit: www.stdtesting.org/std-testing