A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

STD tests: What do you need and why?

You have annual physical exams and never receive a diagnosis for a sexually transmitted infection. You don’t have any symptoms, so you must be in the clear. Right?

Not necessarily. Some STDs don’t cause symptoms and patients often have to request STD testing. If you’re sexually active, have a conversation with your health care provider about your sexual history and what you should be tested for.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is a virus, bacteria, fungus, or parasite people can get through sexual contact. A sexually transmitted disease (STD) develops because of an STI and the term implies that the infection has led to some symptom of disease.

Dr. Mary Ocwieja, a Marshfield Clinic Health System family medicine physician, explained which STD tests may be recommended depending on sex, age and risk factors. Some STDs are difficult to screen for, so testing is only recommended if you have symptoms.

Playing it safe with STDs - Who should be tested and how oftenDifferent recommendations for young men and women

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend annual testing for certain STDs for all sexually active women under age 25 regardless of risk but not to all young men.

Here’s why: Common STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea are more risky for young women. They can cause infertility or health problems for pregnant women and infants.

However, young men should still undergo regular testing if they have multiple or new partners, or if they have symptoms of an STD like painful urination, discharge, genital lesions or sores.

Download this chart for specific testing recommendations.

Testing during pregnancy protects mother and baby

Pregnant women undergo testing  for several STDs regardless of their risk.

“STDs can cause serious health complications for the mother and baby,” Ocwieja said.

Infections can be treated during pregnancy or preventive measures can reduce the risk of passing the infection to the baby.

More testing recommended for people at risk

Regular testing is recommended for some populations. People who are at greater risk for certain STDs include anyone with new or multiple sexual partners and men who have sex with men.

Other infections, including Hepatitis B and C and HIV can be transmitted sexually. They also can be transmitted when blood that is infected  enters the body of an uninfected person. People who received donated organs or had blood transfusions before 1987, use injection drugs or had a needle stick injury are encouraged to talk to their health care provider about testing regardless of their sexual history.

Get tested after unprotected sex with a new partner

“It’s best to talk about your STI status before becoming sexually active with a new partner,” Ocwieja said. “If you didn’t have the talk, get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea within a month after unprotected sex and for HIV after 3-6 months.”

Some public health departments will contact partners about testing for certain infections that must be reported. Otherwise, you should tell current and past partners about their exposure to potential STDs.

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