Getting an STI test- what doctors check for
Many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) cause no symptoms. That’s why regular testing is important if you are sexually active, particularly if you have many partners or do not always use a condom. If you ask a doctor for an STI check, there are many things that can be tested. Some people just want a test for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, others may opt for a full check including blood-borne viruses. Here are the STIs doctors will commonly run tests for.
Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea
These infections can be caught by having vaginal, oral or anal sex. Both can be tested via a urine sample, though swabs from the urethra, vagina, anus or throat may be needed if there are specific symptoms. Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea may be silent, but can also cause symptoms such as vaginal or penile discharge, discomfort when passing urine, anal irritation and discharge. In women, there may be unexpected vaginal bleeding, pain during intercourse and pelvic pain. More serious complications include infertility, ectopic pregnancy and pelvic infection. Gonorrhoea can also cause a sore throat, and chlamydia may cause conjunctivitis (eye infection). Antibiotics can cure either of these infections.
This is a less common, but potentially very serious STI. It’s diagnosed by a blood test. It is spread through skin to skin contact with an infected area. At the start, a person gets a hard painless sore at the site of sexual contact- it can be in the genital region but may also be somewhere less obvious, such as the cervix or mouth. The sore heals after a few weeks, but the infection does not go away, and a person will still be able to pass it on to others. Later, there may then be a generalised rash all over the body and a flu-like illness. If untreated, syphilis can go on to affect various body organs, cause serious damage to the brain and heart. This is known as tertiary syphilis. Antibiotics can cure the early stages of syphilis, but are not as effective in the later stages.
HIV, Hepatitis B and C
These viruses can be spread through unprotected sex or through exposure to infected body fluids, including blood. Hence, they are also an issue for intravenous drug users, or healthcare workers exposed to infected needles/sharps. All of these viruses can be silent. Hepatitis B and C cause inflammation of the liver, which may lead to jaundice (yellow skin and eyes). Hepatitis B immunisation is now a routine part of childhood vaccinations in Australia, which means many people are protected against it (though the vaccine does not work in everyone). Initial infection with HIV may cause a flu-like illness in some people. Over time HIV can cause the immune system to become weak, leading to repeated infections. Only a few decades ago these viruses had a bad prognosis, but treatment has greatly advanced- nowadays most infected individuals can live a relatively normal healthy life.
This is caused by the Type 2 herpes virus (HSV2), though sometimes HSV1 (the cold sore virus) may be to blame. Infection may cause painful ulcers or irritation of the genital skin. Around 1 in 8 people are silent carriers. It’s hard to diagnose in this silent state- there are blood tests but they are not very reliable. The best way to diagnose it is by swabbing any active skin lesions (ulcers or irritation). If you get HSV2, it never leaves your body, so you may get flare-ups from time to time. There are antiviral tablets that can help reduce symptoms of this STI.
This is an STI that fewer people will have heard of, and may not always be included in routine screening. A bit like Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, in men it can cause discomfort when passing urine, and discharge from the penis. In women, it can cause vaginal discharge, irregular bleeding, pelvic pain during sex, and discomfort when passing urine. It’s diagnosed via a genital swab or urine test. It can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
Further information about STI testing
If you need further information about STI testing, speak to your GP or sexual health clinic.
And remember, at Qoctor, within weeks we’ll be offering online prescriptions for STIs such as Chlamydia and Genital Herpes.