If you’re sexually active, particularly with multiple partners, you’ve probably heard the following advice many times: Use protection and get tested.
This is important because a person can have a sexually transmitted disease without knowing it. In many cases, there aren’t any signs or symptoms. In fact, that’s why many experts prefer the term sexually transmitted infections (STIs), because you can have an infection without disease symptoms.
But what types of STI testing do you need? And how often should you be screened? The answers depend on your age, your sexual behaviors and other risk factors. Don’t assume that you’re receiving STI testing every time you have a gynecologic exam or Pap test.
Here are some guidelines for STI testing for specific sexually transmitted infections.
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
Get screened annually if:
Chlamydia and gonorrhea screening is done either through a urine test or through a swab inside the penis in men or from the cervix in women. The sample is then analyzed in a laboratory. Screening is important, because if you don’t have signs or symptoms, you can be unaware that you have either infection.
HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages HIV testing, at least once, as a routine part of medical care if you’re an adolescent or adult between the ages of 13 and 64. Younger teens should be tested if they have a high risk of an STI. The CDC advises yearly HIV testing if you are at high risk of infection.
Hepatitis C screening is recommended for everyone born between 1945 and 1965. The incidence of hepatitis C is high in this age group, and the disease often has no symptoms until it’s advanced. Vaccines are available for both hepatitis A and B if screening shows you haven’t been exposed to these viruses.
Request testing for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis if you:
Your doctor tests you for syphilis by taking either a blood sample or a swab from any genital sores you might have. The sample is examined in a laboratory. A blood sample is taken to test for HIV and hepatitis.
No good screening test exists for herpes, a viral infection that can be transmitted even when a person doesn’t have symptoms. Your doctor may take a tissue scraping or culture of blisters or early ulcers, if you have them, for examination in a laboratory. But a negative test doesn’t rule out herpes as a cause for genital ulcerations.
A blood test also may help detect a past herpes infection, but results aren’t always conclusive. Some blood tests can help differentiate between the two main types of the herpes virus. Type 1 is the virus that more typically causes cold sores, although it can also cause genital sores.
Type 2 is the virus that causes genital sores more often. Still, the results may not be totally clear, depending on the sensitivity of the test and the stage of the infection. False-positive and false-negative results are possible.1