While it’s not exactly a common conversation topic in polite company, the questions of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases and infections are ones that we should all consider.
STD (sexually transmitted disease) and STI (sexually transmitted infection) are mostly interchangeable terms with little to tell them apart for most people. STD refers to the disease itself, which is usually when symptoms show up. STI refers to the infection, which may be present in the body even if there are no symptoms.
The most at risk age group is those under 25, but anyone who is sexually active is potentially at some risk. Here are four sound reasons why getting tested makes sense and could, in fact, save your life.
Symptoms Are Not Always Present
Many people mistakenly believe that if they have no symptoms, they are clear of either HIV or STD. In fact, many STDs may not show physical symptoms for years — up to 10 years in the case of HIV. In studies, between 70 and 95 percent of women with chlamydia show no sign of the disease, and in men the percentage is 90 percent.
Not only do you not know whether you personally are infected, neither do you know if your partner is. The fact that so many people appear perfectly healthy makes the spread of infection all the easier.
Getting Tested is Easy and Quick
For many STD tests, all that’s needed is a swab of the affected area or a urine sample. Others require a blood test, but not all do. There are even home testing kits available where you take your own swab then send this off to a laboratory for testing. The only thing to be aware of with home testing kits is that there is a higher chance of receiving a false-positive result, meaning the test indicates infection but in reality there is none.
Testing for All STDs May Not Be Necessary
If the thought of going through a barrage of STD tests to make sure you’re clear of every single STD sounds like too much to bear, it may be reassuring to understand that not every single test may be necessary. Depending on your lifestyle you are likely to be more susceptible to some infections than others, and a chat with your healthcare provider can help pinpoint your risks more closely.
Once you understand your personal risk factor, you can then be tested for that particular STD.
Sexually active people. Everyone should be screened for HIV at some point, with women also testing for gonorrhea and chlamydia, as they are more likely than men to have infection without symptoms. Those in monogamous relationships who practice safe sex can be tested less often.
People having unprotected sex. It’s wise to get STD tests before you start having sex with a new partner if you don’t plan to use a condom. If you think you may already have been exposed, here are the lengths of time after exposure when you can get a reliable test:
- Two weeks for gonorrhea and chlamydia,
- Between one week and three months for syphilis,
- Between six weeks and three months for hepatitis C and B, or HIV.
High-risk groups. These include those with multiple sex partners, or who have sex with sex workers. These groups are at high risk of HIV infection or hepatitis C, gonorrhea, chlamydia or syphilis. This includes all types of sex: oral, anal or vaginal.
Baby boomers. If you were born between 1945 and 1965, there is a higher risk of hepatitis C that can lead to serious liver disorders and cancer. Before these dates, there was no knowledge of the virus and certainly no tests for it.
STD Tests Are Readily Available
Not everyone is comfortable speaking to their doctor or regular healthcare provider about sexually transmitted diseases and infections. If this describes how you feel, there are many clinics and emergency rooms that specialize in sexual health, offering confidential advice and testing. It’s especially important you seek testing and advice if you think you’ve been exposed to HIV since there is a very short window of opportunity (just 72 hours) for effective treatment that could prevent infection.
If the fear of getting a positive test result and diagnosis is holding you back, it can help to remind yourself that getting tested is vital for your own health and that of your partner.
Many STDs are curable, and the sooner you’re tested the sooner you can receive appropriate treatment.