When should I get tested?
September 28, 2006 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Is there any use in me getting tested for any/all STD/STI's after only a few months since possible exposure?

I recently had a short-term unprotected sexual fling (2 months ago). I will definitely get tested for HIV, but I know that I would need to have at least 6 months between exposure and testing to ensure a definite result. Do I need to have 6 months between exposure and testing for all STD/STI's in order to get full results? Mainly, should I bother getting tested now for everything or just wait until the 6 month mark (assuming that I am not being sexually active presently)? I want to get tested for the whole spectrum of infections and viruses, because I never have, and feel like I should as a responsible adult.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)

Chlamydia, gonorrehea and other bacterial STD can be detected, and be both damaging to you, and infectious to others, within days or weeks of exposure. The more convoluted the lifecycle of the pathogen causing a disease, the longer it may take for symptoms to develop, or antibodies to be produced in the blood, to which some kinds of tests respond.

You're better off to get tested now, get treatment for any early stage infections found, and get tested again in few months, or as your doctor/clinic advises.
posted by paulsc at 1:27 PM on September 28, 2006

Getting tested now is prudent, you certainly shouldn't wait. HIV is an exception in the time it takes to seroconvert - other STDs can be detected very soon after exposure. Of course, even if you're not sexually active so not spreading something, you surely don't want to be sick yourself, right??

Good for you for doing it, BTW!
posted by tristeza at 1:29 PM on September 28, 2006

if you don't have any symptoms of gonorrhea, etc I suppose you're at risk just (heh) for HIV and herpes.
and yes, seroconversion can take time (did you have any episodes of night fevers?).

re: herpes. I remember reading that the only way to know for sure, is to wait until you have an outbreak. you can get blood tests for herpres, but the false positives and negatives don't really make it worth. I don't remember exactly the details, though, since I thankfully never caught it (not for lack of trying, frankly).

IANAD, etc
posted by matteo at 1:39 PM on September 28, 2006

if you don't have any symptoms of gonorrhea, etc...

Some men, and many women, can carry chlamydia and gonorrhea without showing symptoms. You also left hepatitis and a few other nasties off your list.

Symptoms or no symptoms, get tested now — and if you're worried about HIV, get re-tested in six months or a year.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:42 PM on September 28, 2006

don't forget to check for warts, too. your chances for getting rid of them are better if you catch them while they're just starting out.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 2:08 PM on September 28, 2006

Go ahead and get tested right now for everything, but know that HIV is still too soon to know "for sure."

My teaching has always been that men are more likely to be asymptomatic than women as far as gonorrhea/chlamydia infections--either way, it's quite common.

Yes--included in the list would be, depending on the type of unprotected sex, HepA, B, maybe C, HPV (warts, cervical and anal cancer), crabs, herpes.

If you test at 3 months for HIV and turn out negative, it's very unlikely (I've heard <5 %) that you're positive, however, as far as i can find, you're still potentially in what's called the a href="http://www.sfaf.org/aids101/hiv_testing.html">"window period," where you can still be positive but not seroconvert yet. Most experts say the window period ends at 6 months, and that it would be very, very unlikely (but we never say never in medicine) for anyone to seroconvert after that.
posted by gramcracker at 2:41 PM on September 28, 2006

MOST STDs ARE TRANSMITTED ASYMPTOMATICALLY. I always feel like I should beat that drum in the STD threads....
posted by tristeza at 2:53 PM on September 28, 2006

I hope this isn't a derail but--

I was under the impression that it was difficult to test for HPV and herpes if you had no symptoms (warts or sores). Is this true? I went in to be tested for STDs once (strictly as a precaution, so I wasn't as pushy about it as I might otherwise have been) and my doctor pretty much said that they don't test for herpes unless you have a sore, and for HPV only if you have warts or an irregular pap smear. Was she just blowing me off?
posted by fuzzbean at 3:05 PM on September 28, 2006

There is an HPV DNA test for women, so women can be tested for asymptomatic HPV. Insist on it, and make sure they test for all of the strains of HPV, because the strains that cause external warts are different from those that cause cervical dysplasia.
posted by decathecting at 3:31 PM on September 28, 2006

My pet theory on doctors not wanting to test asymptomatic folks is threefold:

One, justifying the expense of tests to insurance companies.
Two, serum tests are most likely to fail in a false negative, potentially inclining patients to be less careful because they believe they are clear. Two sub-a, a false negative and subsequent eruptions can cause anger towards the doc and/or confusion about where the patient contracted HSV.
Three, doctors are less inclined to test for a condition they can do little to treat.

this opinion is worth what you paid for it.
posted by phearlez at 3:41 PM on September 28, 2006

Having gone the testing-paranoia route (plus I used to be the medical reporter at a paper), it's a total pain in the ass to get tested for HPV and HSV. Here's what I've found out.

Herpes: If you have no sores (and yes, some people can have herpes while being totally asymptomatic, perhaps ever...happened to a friend of mine), the ONLY way you can find out if you have it is to get a test from the University of Washington (more on it here.) ELISA, which they may very well try to substitute on you, can't tell the difference between oral and genital herpes. It will take major doing on your part in order to get a UW test. Hell, the clinic I went to lied and told me they did Western blot, then gave me an ELISA. (Luckily for me, I came up clean for all forms.)

HPV- the test for that is called a ThinPrep. Insurance might do that one, but my HMO has said they only really worry about if you've ever had a bad pap before.

My experience with trying to get tested for HPV/HSV is that doctors DID NOT WANT to do it unless I came up with a sore, period. They don't really care if you have it or not because to them it is not a major medical issue. That kind of attitude really ticked me off. How on earth can you be responsible about testing for everything when the doctors themselves won't cooperate with you?
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:10 PM on September 28, 2006

let's not forget syphilis.
posted by brandz at 6:20 PM on September 28, 2006

NO AUTHOR FOUND NO BACKLINK FOUND "I will definitely get tested for HIV, but I know that I would need to have at least 6 months between exposure and testing to ensure a definite result. "

You can get PCR after about two weeks, it just costs $200+. I've done it before for peace of mind.
posted by orthogonality at 6:51 PM on September 28, 2006

Allow me to also just add that....testing for HPV is not hugely recommended for a reason - about 80% of sexually active people in the US have or have had HPV (it can self-resolve in a lot of people). Testing is expensive and inexact, and basically because it's so incredibly common, it's almost not worth it to test - what are you gonna do if you know you have it? So do 8 out of 10 people. And...?

It's like testing for the flu - no one wants it, but everyone has it and there's not much you can do about it or prevent its transmission, so, there you have it, really. (PS - condoms can, in fact, reduce risk of transmission of HPV, so please don't go out of your way to get it).

HPV causes cervical cancer of course, so it's really PAP TESTING (testing for abnormal cervical cells) that is so incredibly important, not HPV testing. Chances are you have/have had HPV, it's the cancer you need to think about.
posted by tristeza at 7:29 PM on September 28, 2006

HPV causes cervical cancer

i think it's more accurate to state HPV may cause cancer or some strains of HPV are more likely to cause cancer. something like that.
posted by brandz at 8:07 PM on September 28, 2006

OK - not all cervical cancer, but MOST, by far (I think 90%? I'll try to cite), is caused by HPV. The strains of HPV that cause warts are not the same strains that cause cancer.

HPV DOES cause cancer, that is not in doubt whatsoever.
posted by tristeza at 8:28 PM on September 28, 2006

Also, if you live in the U.S., definitely check to see whether your area offers "anonymous" rather than "confidential" testing. There are also simple HIV test kits you can buy that are anonymous because you administer them yourself.

The difference is that "confidential" testing requires your real name, and a positive result MUST be reported to federal agencies. Your files are supposed to stay confidential, but I think we've seen enough evidence of how clueless various government agencies can be when it comes to storing and safeguarding data just in technological terms, much less human-judgment terms.

I might be in the minority in feeling this way, but I always do anonymous HIV tests.
posted by lorimer at 10:45 PM on September 28, 2006

jenfullmoon: I think your information may be dated. I had a herpes scare in the past couple of years and did a lot reading. Luckily, I was in Portland, OR and was able to go to Westover Heights Clinic who "have a special interest in the area of genital herpes". They have a free book in html and pdf format on their website that's really informative.

Here's the section on the tests:

"The second and third tests, the HerpeSelect IgG for Herpes Simplex 1 and 2, are made by Focus Diagnostics. HerpeSelect comes in two different test formats: The EIA (or ELISA) and the Immunoblot. They are both gG-based tests. Both accurately distinguish between HSV 1 and 2, are very sensitive and specific for herpes."

The book also talks about the Western Blot test from UW, which I believe is still considered the gold standard, but I'm under the impression that ELISA tests are now very accurate, and in the case where the results are borderline, they can be followed up with the Western Blot.
posted by funkiwan at 11:09 PM on September 28, 2006

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