For sexually active adults not in a long term relationship, regular screening for STDs and HIV is recommended. But it can be confusing to know what you should get tested for, how long you need to wait until the test and how often you should get tested. The following Frequently Asked Questions should answer your questions.
Who should get tested for STDs and HIV?
In general, anyone who is sexually active and not in a long term relationship should get tested on a regular basis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has the following recommendations:
- Women under 25 who are sexually active should be tested for Chlamydia annually
- Men and women who are sexually active and not in a mutually monogamous, long-term relationship should be tested for Chlamydia and HIV annually
- Men who have sex with other men and are not in a mutually monogamous, long-term relationships should be tested for HIV, syphilis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea
- Women who are pregnant should be tested for Chlamydia and syphilis at their first prenatal visit. They should be tested for HIV and hepatitis B as early as possible in their pregnancy. Your doctor may also recommend testing for hepatitis C and gonorrhea
Are HIV tests important?
The CDC recommends annual screening for HIV for sexually active adults not in a mutually monogamous, long-term relationship. The following behaviors increase your risk of contracting HIV and would indicate that you should be tested on an annual basis:
- Injecting drugs or steroids or sharing needles with someone else
- Having unprotected sex (including vaginal, anal or oral sex) with men who have sex with men, have had multiple partners or anonymous partners?
- A previous diagnosis of hepatitis, tuberculosis or any STD
- Exchanging sex for drugs or money
Remember, if your partner has participated in any of these behaviors, you are also at increased risk of contracting HIV and should be tested before having sex. If your partner continues these behaviors or is not monogamous, you should be tested on an annual basis.
Because recent research shows that early detection and treatment can help to reduce the chances of passing HIV on to your baby, all pregnant women should get tested for HIV.
How long after exposure or unprotected sex should I have the test?
There isn’t any one time frame where all STDs and HIV should up, therefore, there isn’t a simple answer to this question. If you have had unprotected sex and are worried about an STD or HIV, you should get tested 1 to 2 weeks after and again 90 days later. This is because different STDs are detected at different times:
- Chlamydia - anytime from 1 week to 3 weeks
- Gonorrhea - anytime from 2 days to 30
- Syphilis - anytime from 10 days to 3 months
- Herpes – anytime from 2 weeks to 3 months
- Hepatitis B – anytime from 3 weeks to 2 months
- Hepatitis C – anytime up to 6 months
- HIV – anytime from 4 weeks to 3 months
Once you get tested, you should abstain from sex with anyone until you have received the results. Remember, many people have an STD but don’t have any physical symptoms. Even without symptoms, he or she can pass the STD to someone through sexual contact.
Is there one test for all STDs?
Each STD has its own screening test. If you want to be tested for more than one STD, you will be given one test for each, or a panel of tests. How you are tested is also different. For some STDs, such as Chlamydia, gonorrhea and HPV you will need a swab test – this may be from the saliva inside your mouth, your cervix, your penis or genital sores. For other STDs, such as hepatitis, HIV or herpes you wjill need to have a blood test.
Where can I find a testing center?
Your doctor can probably recommend a clinic or testing site in your area. However, many people prefer to keep testing private. According to FindTheBest.com. different centers may offer different services, such as testing, counseling, information about sexual health and contraceptives, make sure the center provides the service you want and need. You may also want to check on prices and how they make sure your testing and the results are kept private.
The website FindTheBest provides a comparison of STD clinics based on your area. You can search for centers that test for a specific STD or those that provide vaccines for hepatitis or those that are close to your home. The website, where possible, provides the cost of the test as reported by the clinic and what services are offered. This site allows you to compare different centers to find the one that best suits your need.
A Word About Hepatitis
Many children are vaccinated against hepatitis within the first couple years of life. If you aren’t sure whether you have been vaccinated, talk to your doctor to find out and, if not, discuss the benefits of having the vaccination. Although boosters are generally necessary, your doctor may recommend a booster vaccine based on your health. The CDC recommends the following:
- Those children who have not been vaccinated but live in an area that has a high incident rate of Hepatitis A
- Those people going to countries that have a medium or high rate of Hepatitis A
- Men who have sex with men
- Users of illegal drugs
- Those people with chronic liver disease
- Those people with clotting-factor diseases
Those whose sexual partners have Hepatitis B or anyone who is in a household or works with or cares for someone with Hepatitis B or is developmentally disabled
- All sexually active people who are not in a mutually monogamous, long-term relationship
- Men who have sex with other men
- Those who take illegal drugs by injection and share needles or other drug-related equipment
- Health care and public safety workers
- People with end-stage renal disease, liver disease or HIV
- Those traveling to areas with medium to high rates of Hepatitis B
“Frequently Asked Questions,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“Hepatitis A FAQs for Health Professionals,” Updated 2011, Aug. 4, Staff Writer, National Center for HIV/AIDS
“Hepatitis B FAQs for the Public,” Updated 2009, June 9, Staff Writer, National Center for HIV/AIDS
“How to Find Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Clinics,” 2013, Staff Writer, FindTheBest.com