No one likes to think about getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). However, if you’re sexually active or participate in certain risky behaviors, you have the potential to contract and spread STDs.
The fact is, there are about 20 million new STD infections annually in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And STD testing is the only way to get an accurate diagnosis and prevent serious health consequences if you acquire a disease.
Individual recommendations regarding the type and frequency of STD testing depend on certain factors, such as the presence of symptoms, lifestyle, sexual history, and overall wellness. Karl Trippe, MD, and the staff at Waco Primary Care in Waco, Texas, have the expertise necessary to help you establish an STD testing schedule that’s appropriate for your circumstances.
Following our recommendations can help you identify infections, improve outcomes, and prevent the spread of infection to others. In this blog, Dr. Trippe discusses the recommended criteria for scheduling STD testing.
The CDC recommends a schedule of routine STD testing for individuals based on certain characteristics, such as age and lifestyle, regardless of whether there are symptoms or known exposure to an infected partner. These STD testing recommendations include:
- Anyone aged 13-64 should get tested at least once for HIV.
- Sexually active women under age 25 should get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia annually.
- Sexually active women age 25 and older with new or multiple sex partners or an infected sex partner should get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia annually.
- All pregnant women should get tested for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C early in their pregnancy and should repeat as needed to protect the mother and infant.
- All pregnant women considered at-risk should get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea in addition to the other recommended STD tests for pregnant women (see above) to protect the mother and infant.
- All sexually active gay, bisexual, and other men who are intimate with other men should annually test for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. Those with multiple or anonymous partners may benefit from testing at multiple intervals during the year, such as every 3-6 months.
Other factors, such as having had an STD in the past, may increase your risk of contracting an infection, so your recommended timetable for testing may vary based on your needs.
Symptoms of an infection
You can become infected with an STD when you have unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex with a partner who is infected. STDs can also spread by sharing needles for intravenous drugs with an infected person. Having sex with multiple partners or with a person who has multiple partners increases your risk of contracting an STD.
Even if you’re not aware of exposure to an STD, testing may be recommended if you have symptoms of an infection, such as:
- Unusual discharge from your vagina or penis
- Frequent urination and/or burning sensations when you urinate
- Bumps or sores in the area of your genitals, thighs, or buttocks
- Fever, fatigue, body aches, or swollen glands, similar to the flu
- Pain during intercourse
- Swelling of the genitals
- Itching or irritation inside your vagina or penis
While routine testing can identify infections that exist when you don’t know you’re infected, you should get additional testing if you believe you’ve been exposed to an STD.
Timing of testing
If you believe you need STD testing, the timing of your test will depend on the estimated time of your infection. Some STDs can exist without symptoms, so it’s important to test after your body has had time to produce antibodies to the infection. Testing too early may produce a negative test result.
Our office can help you determine the appropriate timing for STD testing, so you can get the most accurate results possible. The testing window for a specific STD varies by infection and can range from a few days to several weeks.
Timing for your test will also depend on whether the test is looking for the pathogen that causes the disease — which would be present earlier — or the antibodies that the body produces in reaction to the disease, which would take time to develop. Certain factors, such as the health of your immune system and whether you have a history of a similar infection, may also determine when you’d be more likely to get the most accurate result.
Depending on your circumstances, you may be advised to retest at a later time to confirm an initial negative test result.