It might seem to talk about having an “STD testing schedule”. After all, most people would only think of getting tested for STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) if they suddenly get red and itchy.
But not all STDs or STIs (sexually transmitted infections) show up straight away, or even at all. The danger is that these infections can lead to more serious diseases down the track if you don’t treat them early on.
Being infected with an STI or STD is very common, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you’ve been affected. However, you do need to act quickly.
Some sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea can pass bacteria to women that cause pelvic inflammatory disease, potentially making them infertile. Another common infection — HIV — can take up to 12 weeks to cause any symptoms or even show up on a test, and can turn into full-blown AIDS if you don’t get it treated early on.
Fortunately, private and confidential STD testing is available in most locations, and you can get the results within 72 hours.
Here are some of the most common STIs and STDs and how often you should get tested for each:
Chlamydia can be asymptomatic for weeks, with common symptoms including pain when urinating, discharge from the penis, swollen testicles, and rectal pain, discharge, and bleeding if infected in the rectum.
Gonorrhea can present no symptoms, or you can experience pain when urinating, a green, white, or yellow discharge from the penis, and less frequently swollen testicles and/or a rash.
Syphilis starts with a painless sore at the entry-point of the bacteria, and has four stages. The final stage can potentially lead to damage of the heart, nervous system, brain, joints, other parts of the body, and even death.
It’s best to be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis if you’ve had unprotected sex, or every 3-6 months if you have other risk factors such as multiple partners, sharing needles, or having sex with other men. If you have had oral or anal intercourse, ask about specific tests to find infections in these areas.
Herpes (herpes simplex virus) affects the mouth in the form of cold sores (usually HSV-1) or the genitals (usually HSV-2), and is passed on through sexual intercourse and kissing. Within 2 days and 2 weeks of infection, blisters can appear around the site of infection, and you can develop a fever and feel generally unwell. Testing is recommended by the CDC if you or your sexual partner are experiencing an outbreak of blisters, although false positives and negatives from testing are possible.
Hepatitis B is spread through bodily fluids and damages the liver. You should get tested regularly if you share injecting equipment, have sex with multiple partners, or have male-to-male sex. You should get tested at least once if you have a family member with hepatitis B, have had an STD in the past, or if you or your parents are from affected parts of Africa, the Pacific Islands, South America, or Asia.
Hepatitis C is typically spread through blood contact, and also attacks the liver. If you were born between 1945 and 1965 and had a blood transfusion or organ transplant, you should get tested. You also need to get tested if you have injected illegal drugs, shared needles, had rough sex where there was potentially bleeding, or had sex with multiple male partners.
The CDC recommends that everyone between 13 and 64 get tested at least once for HIV. Get tested at least once a year if you have unprotected sex, have exchanged sex for money, if you or your partner has had an STI, or if you have injected drugs with others. If you have sex with men and/or both men and women in addition to the risk factors mentioned, the CDC recommends being tested for HIV every 3 to 6 months.
While you’re not 100% sure about your or your sexual partner’s current STD status, make sure you use condoms and dental dams to prevent spreading or being infected with one. The only way you can really be sure of your status is by having a complete panel done 3 months after your last sexual contact, so it’s best to abstain or practice safe sex unless this condition is met.
Support and counseling are available for people affected by STDs and also for those experiencing violence or pressure from an intimate partner to engage in unsafe and/or unwanted sexual acts. Get tested, speak up, and enjoy a healthier future!
Larry Hayman is a freelance writer for STD labs, specializing in sexual and reproductive health. His mission is to raise awareness about the importance of early STD detection through laboratory testing. In his free time, Larry volunteers in AIDS education and counseling in the US and abroad.
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