The number of new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) being reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is rising in the United States despite the years of focus on safe sex and expansive sexual education. This growing phenomenon may be in part due to a greater number of Americans testing themselves more regularly, primarily due to the convenience of at-home test kits. The traditional doctor appointment and lab STD testing protocols can be awkward and embarrassing situations for anyone to go through, even if they are doing it for formalities to appease a new partner or to rule out any other explanation for feminine odors. The majority of states now require people undergoing testing to verify their identity with a state driver's license or official ID card in order to report them to state health departments if patients are suspected of being HIV+. The class of people who are at the highest risk for sexually transmitted diseases would rather not learn that they have an incurable STD because it would burden their conscience and severely limit the number of prospective sex/life partners.
The growing field of STD testing is using more diverse methods than ever before to detect the presence of sexually transmitted infections and diseases. Many people who have STI's and STD's have no noticeable symptoms. Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Genital Herpes, Genital Warts, HIV, HPV, Chlamydia, and Hepatitis (A, B, or C) are among the most common sexually transmitted infections. These can often be tested for at home with a collected urine sample and/or swab of the genitals or mouth. The difference between at-home testing and General Practitioner-referred laboratory testing is the reliability of the results. Doctor-referred laboratory testing usually includes a urine sample, blood-draws, pap-smear (in females), and genital/oral swabs. Insurance will typically cover testing for sexually transmitted diseases but at the expense of privacy disclosures in the event that you test positive.
These laboratory results are not the final word on sexually transmitted diseases. Testing for Genital Herpes (Herpes-2) can be problematic because the virus can remain dormant and undetectable in the body if there is no outbreak. Men typically have no outbreak symptoms even if they contract the Herpes-2 virus. Furthermore, Herpes-2 can be passed on through oral sex and cause outbreaks in the mouth and not just the genital regions. Lesbians are at higher risk of contracting Herpes-2 because of the greater propensity to engage in oral sex with multiple partners.
The good news is that most STIs are curable. If caught early, bacterial infections like Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis may be fully cured with antibiotics. However, many strains of these infections are becoming antibiotic resistant and can cause major health problems. Untreated Chlamydia or Gonorrhea can cause infertility or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), among other health concerns. Untreated Syphilis can be potentially fatal because it damages your heart, brain, and nervous system.
Hepatitis A and B may be prevented through immunization. These shots require you to build up a level through a series, however, and will lose their effectiveness if you do not receive ongoing status checks. Although some new drugs are prohibitively expensive for many people, Hepatitis C is now curable in over 95% of patients. Hepatitis A and B can both ultimately clear up on their own. A few people may remain infectious even after the virus has cleared up. These viruses damage the liver and other organs during the course of the illness even if the body successfully suppressed it.
Vaccinations for HPV are becoming more frequent in adolescent females to prevent the increased risk of uterine cancer later on in life. The only truly incurable disease is HIV even though the levels may be suppressed to undetectable and intransmittable levels with the use of medications.
Now that we have learned some information about sexually transmitted infections and diseases, you are armed to safeguard yourself with vaccination and regular testing. We will address a few further questions you may have below.
Q: How Do I Test for STDs?
A: If your insurance will cover it, it is advised that you request a checkup from your General Practitioner. Many places like Planned Parenthood offer free or cheap STD testing for those who cannot afford it.
Q: How Long After Risky Sex Should I Wait to Be Tested?
A: If you engaged in high-risk sexual activity, the RNA rapid test for HIV is the quickest form of detection. Most other infections may take anywhere from weeks to 3-months or more to show positive results on any test.
Q: What are My Risks of Contracting HIV if I had Sex with an Infected Person?
A: HIV is most easily transmitted through blood and has therefore affected homosexual men the most by percentage due to the tearing of delicate tissue during anal sex.