When it comes to STD testing, timing matters
This week, a patient asked about STD testing. He said he’d been with one new partner since I last saw him for testing…but in between his three sexual encounters with that one partner, he believes that person had been with other partners. He also told me that he met his partner online, and that they used condoms “most of the time.”
What’s his risk for a sexually transmitted infection?
First, I asked him when his last encounter was. It was two weeks ago. That’s enough time to detect whether he’s infected with gonorrhea or chlamydia…but other sexually transmitted infections can take longer to show up.
What should we do about the tests that take longer to show reliable results? My advice is to repeat the tests at three months after the last sexual encounter. It’s the best way to make sure that we don’t miss an infection that might take longer to turn positive…but my patient asked, “Dr. Lisa, I once saw another doctor who didn’t mention repeating the tests. Why are you recommending that?”
I answered him, “It’s about giving you the most honest and medically correct recommendation. If you only test once and it’s before the three-month mark, no one can tell you with complete certainty that you don’t have an STD. But there is agreement in the medical community that if your tests are all negative three months after a sexual encounter, the risk of an STD is exceedingly low. And if I tell you to wait three months and only test once, there’s a risk that you might have a chlamydia or gonorrhea infection that goes untreated for that period of time…possibly causing infertility or other problems.”
Then my patient asked, “How often should I get tested for STDs in general?”
That depends on your situation, of course. If you have ongoing sexual activity with new partners, getting tested once a year may not be enough. I do see some patients who opt to get tested two to four times a year based on their higher risk profile. If you want to reduce the need for testing, you should limit your number of sexual partners and use condoms each and every time you have sex.
In summary, it’s a good idea to do an early test at three weeks, so we can address an infection as soon as we detect it…and to re-test at three months to detect any other infections that may not have turned up in the early test. To find out if you would benefit from an STD test, let me guide you through a personalized Test Recommendation.