When to Get Tested for STDs
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections given from one infected person to an uninfected person through sexual contact and it is important to know when to get tested for STDs. STDs are caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites, and can infect both men and women. However, women often have more severe health consequences because of their reproductive system and the effect STDs can have on a baby.
Antibiotics can cure most bacterial STDs. However, STDs that are caused by viruses often have no cure. Some medications can treat the symptoms of viral STDs and keep the disease in check.
Although latex condoms can prevent STDs, they do not provide complete protection or eliminate all risks with sexual contact. In this article, we will review some of the most common STDs, and the importance of testing.
Most Common STDs
Chlamydia is a bacterial STD. It is treatable with medication that can be prescribed by a health practitioner. With treatment, chlamydia resolves in a few weeks. However, a person can become re-infected even if they've contracted it in the past and received treatment.
The symptoms of chlamydia can include abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina, or painful urination. However, people infected with chlamydia may not show symptoms and be unaware they have the disease.
Chlamydia, if left untreated, can permanently damage a woman’s reproductive system. A woman who is pregnant can pass the disease onto her baby during delivery, which can possibly cause pneumonia or an eye infection.
Genital herpes is a viral STD. There is no cure for genital herpes; however, there are medications to treat symptoms. Genital herpes can spread from the mouth of someone with oral herpes through oral sex.
Genital herpes symptoms consist of blisters or sores around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. It can be easily mistaken for an ingrown hair. However, most people with genital herpes do not show symptoms.
Genital herpes, if left untreated, can become painful and, in people with suppressed immune systems, very severe. Pregnant women may pass herpes to their unborn baby, usually during delivery. Genital herpes may also cause miscarriage and early births.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial STD. It is treatable with medication that can be prescribed by a health practitioner. With treatment, gonorrhea resolves in a few weeks. However, a person can become re-infected even after having had the disease before and receiving treatment.
The symptoms of gonorrhea are white, green, or yellow discharge from the penis or vagina, and pain during urination. Women may also have bleeding between their periods. However, most people with gonorrhea do not show symptoms and may not know they have the disease.
If left untreated, gonorrhea can have severe consequences for women. The uterus or fallopian tubes can become infected, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can be painful and may cause infertility.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD. HPV is a viral STD, so there is no cure for it.
The symptoms include warts on the genitals or surrounding areas. However, most people have no symptoms. HPV warts can be treated with medication, though the virus will always remain in the body, and warts may recur.
HPV may lead to cancers, mainly cervical cancer, in women. Some vaccines can be obtained to prevent initial infection with HPV.
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Syphilis is a bacterial STD. It is treatable with medication that can be prescribed by a health practitioner. However, a person can become re-infected even after having had the disease and receiving treatment.
The symptoms for syphilis are primarily round, painless sores at the original area of the infection. In later stages, skin rashes can appear throughout the body, along with swollen lymph nodes. If left untreated for an extended period, syphilis can affect the brain, heart, and other organs.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a terminal viral STD. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS; however, there are medications to control symptoms and prolong life.
Early symptoms of HIV include sore throat and fatigue. Most people with HIV do not show signs until the disease progresses to AIDS. AIDS symptoms can include fatigue, recurrent infections, and weight loss.
Testing for STDs
Because many STDs show no signs or symptoms, testing for STDs is essential for treatment and prevention of infection for others. STDs do not discriminate and affect people from all socioeconomic levels, races, ages, and areas. Many people can be infected by one person who may not show any signs or symptoms.
Testing is also vital because STDs are challenging to prevent. Although latex condoms help to prevent the spread of STDs, they are not 100% effective. Some STDs like herpes and genital warts can occur in areas that are not covered by a latex condom, which can allow infections to spread. The social stigma attached to STDs also prevents people from seeking assistance when they are infected, which allows the disease to spread to others.
Lastly, testing helps to diagnose an STD and prevent an untreated STD from harming the body further. Many STDs can lead to permanent injury to the person's body, an unborn fetus, or a newborn. To treat an STD, a correct diagnosis is required through testing or evaluation.
Most STD tests can are done through lab work or a simple assessment. STD testing can be requested through a physician or licensed health practitioner. For women, testing can also be requested as an appointment with a gynecologist. Screening for women can also be included as part of their annual gynecology exam upon request. Tests can also be obtained (for free or at low cost) at a local public health clinic or Planned Parenthood.
A positive test result can be upsetting. Counseling and a meeting with a health professional can help decide the next steps for treatment. It may also be necessary to inform sexual partners about the positive result. Telling them allows partners to determine whether they should also get tested and to seek treatment if necessary.