Today, we have a blog post written by a fierce advocate and friend of the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center, Aubree Moore, Nursing Supervisor with our local Virginia Department of Health. Aubree is an advocate for programs that support HIV prevention and treatment including PrEP and the VA Medication Assistance Program. We hope this will be the first installment in a series written by Aubree for the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center, on various topics associated with sexual health. We are grateful for her contribution and vital work in our community!
In this blog, Aubree talks through the steps of getting an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) test, in the hopes of demystifying and normalizing the testing process. She also includes a helpful list of frequently asked questions and where to find additional resources. Please check it out!
We all know that our sexual health is important, but the visit can still be unnerving (even for those of us who work in the field). Knowing what to expect at the visit can help shake those nerves and normalize the process. Below we will talk about the usual steps of getting an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) test:
When to get tested:
STI testing should be a routine part of your healthcare, just like getting your blood pressure checked or a having a yearly physical exam. Don’t wait until you notice symptoms. If you’re sexually active, get tested!
At your visit:
Sexual History: Your visit will begin with a thorough health history that focuses on your sexual and reproductive health. Although it may seem like a lot of questions, this information is very important because it helps the provider determine how to best care for you. Everyone who is sexually active should be tested for HIV, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, and Chlamydia, but some will need additional testing depending on their risk factors.
Testing: Once you talk through your history with the provider, it will be time for testing. Testing will look different for everyone depending on the type of sex you have and the testing options available at your clinic. Below are some of the various ways you may be tested for routine STIs:
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea: Urine Sample, Vaginal Swab, Throat Swab, Rectal Swab
Syphilis: Blood Draw or Fingerstick Rapid Test
HIV: Brood Draw or Fingerstick Rapid Test
Hepatitis B: Blood Draw
Hepatitis C: Blood Draw or Fingerstick Rapid Test
Physical Exam: If you are not having symptoms, your visit will likely be “test and go” - which means you do not need an exam. If you are having symptoms, the provider may perform a pelvic and genital exam. The physical exam can help the provider diagnose your symptoms. It’s normal to feel uneasy about this part of your visit, but the provider is specially trained to make this process as quick and easy as possible.
*T/W- If a physical exam is a trauma trigger, let your healthcare provider know before the exam begins. We respect your needs and will work with you to make the exam safe. Deferring the exam until you are ready is also an option.
After your visit:
Results: Your results should be available within a week of the test. Depending on which clinic you visit, you may receive a phone call or be asked to return to the office to get your results.
Treatment: If any of your tests are positive, you will need to return to the clinic for treatment. All STIs are curable or treatable with the right medication.
Follow Up: You may need to follow up for further testing or treatment in the weeks and months after your initial visit. Your healthcare provider will tell you when your next visit is recommended based on your health and sexual history – typically testing is encouraged every 3-6 months.
That’s it - you’ve successfully navigated your Sexual Health screening! Thanks for keeping yourself and your partner(s) safe and healthy! To find local testing resources check out https://gettested.cdc.gov/.
Can anyone find out my results?
No, your results are confidential. If you test positive, the health department can help notify your partner(s) and will protect your identity. No matter where you receive testing, the health department can help you with this.
If I test positive, how will I get treatment?
Most clinics can provide treatment at their office, or they will refer you to a trusted provider who can provide the medications.
Penis Swabs – are those still a thing???
In the case of routine STI testing: NO! A urine sample is all we need!
What about Herpes and HPV?
If you have a sore in the genital area, your provider will test the area for Herpes Simplex Virus. Some clinics offer a blood test for Herpes, but many only test if you are having symptoms.
HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is detected by a Pap Smear. Pap Smears are performed on the cervix by collecting a small amount of cells on a tiny brush. The test can show if you have HPV and which type (high risk or low risk). If you do not have a cervix, there is no lab test for HPV. HPV may be clinically diagnosed if you experience genital warts.
There is a very effective HPV vaccine available (Gardasil), and most clinics that test for STIs can also provide this.
What if I have private insurance, but I don’t want the policy holder to see that I’ve been tested?
At any health department, you may opt out of using your insurance. If you opt out, the registration staff will ask for more information including your income. Your visit and testing cost will be based on the information you provide. We want to make testing affordable and money should never be a barrier to care.
Aubree Moore BSN, RN