April is the Centers for Disease Control’s Get Yourself Tested month. I’m not talking about checkups at the doctor for the common flu — I am talking about testing for sexually transmitted infections (STI).
Oftentimes, with STI’s, there are very few — if any — signs or symptoms. Common STI’s include chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes. The most common way to spread STI’s are through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. Additionally, certain STI’s, including HIV and Hepatitis C, can be spread through needles and blood.
For most STI’s, the long-term outcome is better when they are identified and treated early. Bacterial STI’s, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, can be treated with an antibiotic. Viral infections — including but not limited to herpes and HIV — do not have a treatment or a cure, however there are medications that can lessen the impact of the outbreak (herpes) or medication to slow the progression (HIV).
If not identified or treated early, STI’s can cause long-term health implications. For example, when syphilis is left untreated it can start to affect the nerves and then eventually the brain, which could lead to brain damage. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which could lead to a damaged reproductive system and constant pelvic pain.
The best news is that STI’s are mostly preventable. The best way to prevent an STI is abstinence from any oral, anal or vaginal sex. However, there are prevention strategies if you don’t want to be abstinent.
Barrier methods — including internal and external condoms — can be very effective in preventing STI transmission when used correctly and before every sexual encounter. Forms of contraception, including but not limited to the birth control pill, intrauterine device (IUD) and the patch, will not protect you from getting an STI. Make sure to talk to your partner so you know if you are at risk of contracting an STI, and certainly be proactive in telling them if you yourself have an STI. Talking about STIs and its testing is a great way to reduce the negative stigma surrounding by STI’s and STI transmission.
The process of getting the test done is simple and quick. Depending on the clinic and what you are getting tested, expect a swab of your inside cheek, urine sample or blood test. After the test, you may receive results right away or it may take a few days. Depending on the results, you may be prescribed antibiotics or antiviral medication.
The test is very easy and quick and usually not painful. Even if you don’t think you have an STI you cannot be sure unless you get tested, and it is recommended to get tested between each sexual partner.
Fortunately, there are various sexual health resources on campus. A great resource for students is the Student Health Clinic which is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and they accept most insurance plans. They provide full medical services and offer STI testing and various methods of contraception.
If you’re interested in other STI testing locations in our community, feel free to visit the Vandal Health Education Resource Room in the Student Health Center (University Ave. entrance) or uidaho.edu/VandalHealth to learn more.
Additionally, various programs on campus are here to help you stay safe and healthy. Free condoms are available with no questions asked in the Vandal Health Ed Resource Rooms, Women’s Center and the Student Health Clinic. Workshops and programs throughout the year address different sexuality and healthy relationships topics, so check out our Vandal Health Ed Facebook page to stay in the loop.
Take control of your life and protect yourself and your partners. This April, take the opportunity to get tested.
Sarah Graham is a peer educator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org