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What is the most common way to test for STDs?

Sexually transmitted diseases often occur without symptoms, depending on the type of virus or infection. Thankfully, getting tested for STDs is quick and easy. Testing for STDs is imperative for overall health and wellbeing, especially if you’ve had a few new partners within the last six months.

Anyone wanting to have an STI test will need to visit a sexual health clinic or medical professional. There is no universal test for sexually transmitted diseases, with each test dependent on the panel in question. For a full panel (looking for everything), patients will need to undergo a physical examination, a swab of the genital region, a urine sample, and blood work.

Protecting yourself from STDs

While testing for STDs is essential, remaining vigilant on proactive measures can lessen the chance of testing positive for a sexually transmitted disease. Using condoms or barrier methods can also protect individuals from many different STDs, while birth control can lessen the chance of an unwanted pregnancy. For individuals at-risk for HIV, PrEP medications can reduce the likelihood of becoming HIV-positive. PrEP effectiveness is approximately 99% when taken correctly for at-risk individuals. If you’re not sure how to protect yourself against STDs, talk to your doctor during testing.

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea

The national guidelines recommend annual screening for anyone matching the following criteria:

– If you have HIV

– If you’re a man having sexual relations with another man

– If you’re a sexually active woman under the age of 25

– If you’re a sexually active woman over the age of 25 and at risk of STIs (including new partners or multiple partners)

Chlamydia and gonorrhea use urine samples or swabs of the genital region to confirm the diagnosis. The sample is sent to a lab for review, with results sent back to the doctor. Screening for these STDs is vital as many individuals won’t have symptoms of an infection.

Hepatitis, Syphilis, and HIV

The CDC encourages HIV testing at least once as a routine part of care between 13 and 64. Individuals at-risk for STIs should undergo more frequent testing, with high-risk candidates having annual testing.

Vaccines are currently available for Hepatitis A and B, should the screening show you haven’t been exposed to the virus. For Hepatitis C screening, anyone born between 1945 and 1965 should have screening. Incidence of Hep C is high for this age group, with no symptoms occurring until advanced stages.

Testing for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis should occur when:

– Using IV drugs

– If you’re a man having sexual relations with another man

– Are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant

– Have had more than one sexual partner since your last test

– Have tested positive for another STI (putting you at greater risk of other STIs)

Testing for these STDs is typically a blood sample, although the doctor may swab a genital sore for further testing. Doctors send these tests to the lab for review. Blood tests for HIV may include traditional processing times, or the doctor may recommend a rapid screening test.


Most of all, sexually active adults will have an HPV infection at some point but never develop symptoms. Typically, the virus disappears within two years. A few strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer, others may cause genital warts, and multiple strains will cause no symptoms.

Currently, no universal HPV test is available for men. Diagnosis occurs through visual inspection of the lesions or biopsies of the tissue. For women, a few tests are available, including:

HPV Test: The HPV test includes screening for high-risk strains of HPV. These tests are available every five years if Pap results are normal. These screenings check for abnormal cell changes caused by HPV.

Pap Test: The current recommendation for women between 21 to 65 is a pap test every three years. These tests may occur more frequently in women with abnormal results.

Genital Herpes

Unfortunately, no reliable screening method exists for herpes, a viral infection. Most people with herpes will never have symptoms but still transmit the virus to others. Individuals presenting with blisters or ulcers may have a swab analysis to be examined in the lab. A negative test doesn’t rule out herpes as a potential cause for ulcerations.

Some blood tests can help detect previous herpes infections, but results aren’t always definite. Few blood tests can differentiate between the two main types of herpes. Type 1 is a virus that typically causes cold sores to appear, although it can also cause genital sores.

Type 2 is the virus that causes genital sores more often. The results may not definitively diagnose someone, as false-positive and false-negative results can occur. These results highly depend on the sensitivity of the test and the stage of the infection.

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