Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are very common, with millions of new infections occurring every year in the U.S. They are particularly prevalent among teens and young adults ages 15-24. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly half of the 26 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in 2018 were found in this age group. People who are sexually active should take steps to protect their health by getting an STD test.
What are STDs?
STDs are often referred to as STIs and are spread through sexual or intimate contact. Both bacteria and viruses can cause STDs. There are more than 20 types of STDs, including gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, genital herpes, human papillomavirus, and HIV. Correctly using condoms, being vaccinated (for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B), and/or abstaining from sex are all ways to help prevent STDs.
Certain STDs can be a precursor to some types of cancer, such as human papillomavirus causing cervical cancer. Some STDs only cause minor symptoms or no symptoms at all, so you may have an STD and not know it. That’s why getting an STD test is so important. Symptoms you may have, depending on the infection, include:
- Unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
- Sores or bumps in the genital area
- Painful or burning urination
- Pain during sex
- Testicular pain for men
- Itching and redness in the genital area
- Blisters or sores in or around the mouth
- Abnormal vaginal odor
- Anal itching, soreness, or bleeding
- Painful bowel movements
- Lower abdominal pain
Medications can treat STDs and some may be cured entirely. Early diagnosis and treatment is important to limit long-term effects that can include blindness, brain damage, cancer, heart disease, infertility, birth defects, and even death.
STD Screening Guidelines
A physical examination, blood tests, or culture swabs can help diagnose an STD. If you have signs or symptoms of an STD, you should get tested. Additionally, the CDC provides these recommendations for how often to get an STD screening based on risk factors and age:
- Test for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea at least once every year. Those who have multiple or anonymous partners should be tested more frequently.
- Test for HIV annually, if not more frequently (every three to six months).
- Test for hepatitis C at least once every year, if living with HIV.
All adults and adolescents ages 13-64: Test at least one time for HIV.
Where to Get an STD Test
You have options for where to get an STD test, including your doctor’s office, local health clinics and health departments, or health center organizations. Depending on the lab and provider, the most common STDs may be included in a full STD panel: chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes (types 1 and 2), HIV, hepatitis C, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. In some instances, you may be able to get no-cost or low-cost testing. You can find a testing location near you using the CDC’s GetTested search tool.