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Screening for STDs should be based on risk behavior, not symptoms. New tests and new research mean changes. Learning about asymptomatic and subclinical infection is the most important thing you can do. Here is the new emphasis:

  • People can have more than one STD at a time.
  • Untreated STDs can cause serious harm including sterility, pain, and stillbirth. Untreated STDs, those with symptoms and those without symptoms, make it easier to get other infections; this includes HIV infection.
  • It is common for STDs to be passed from one person to another unintentionally by people who have no symptoms. Most people with chlamydia, herpes and genital warts have no symptoms or have symptoms so mild that they are not noticed. These people can and do infect others. This is one reason STDs are so common.
  • Since many people do not know they are infected, knowing your partner means going with him or her for tests. STD exams and lab tests are needed. Anyone who thinks they are free of infection because they do not have symptoms needs an immediate update.
  • In general, birth control pills and shots do not prevent STD infection. Use both condoms and your other birth control method.
  • Routine physical exams won't include STD tests unless you ask. A sports physical is not an STD exam. A Pap test is not a full STD exam. You must be very direct and say that you're sexually active and need STD tests. Speak up before the clinician begins the exam so all the testing materials are ready when the exam begins.
  • Be very clear if rectal or oral testing is needed. Rehearse, role-play, but do it. This goes for both men and women.
  • All sex partners within a certain time frame must be examined and treated; bring partners to medical treatment or ask for help from your clinician or other clinic staff.
  • Reinfection will occur unless all partners are treated. You need to change the ways that you have sex so there is no risk of infection.
  • No sex until treatment is complete and all sores are healed is the rule.
  • Negative test results do not always mean absence of infection -- the tests may have been done too early. No test is 100% accurate. Some test results are quick; others, like herpes culture, can take longer than a week. For some tests, you must wait months until you produce measurable antibodies in your blood.
  • Listen carefully to information about completing medication. Follow it, or notify your clinician. Speak up so that schedules can be adjusted for the way you live and work.
  • Be sure that you can phone or return to the clinic for test results. Tell the clinic staff if you have phone or transportation problems.
  • Don't forget HIV, TB, hepatitis, and reproductive health information, testing and services. Find out if you qualify for free hepatitis vaccine. Make sure you keep appointments for all the needed shots or services.

Source: "Washington State Responds" STD 101 for Outreach Workers. Washington State Department of Health


The best way to prevent STDs is to avoid sexual contact with infected people. One sure way to do this is Abstinence. Abstinence means not having sex with anyone. Sexual fidelity is another way. This means having sex with one (uninfected) person who has sex only with you, as in marriage. If a couple practices sexual fidelity, and they have no STDs to begin with, they will not be infected. Or if they did have one or more STDs in the past, they will not get new infections.

People who choose not to abstain or practice fidelity must be responsible for protecting themselves from infection. Knowing the right way to use latex condoms and using them every time you have sex can help prevent the spread of infection. Though not 100% effective, condoms are the best protection IF risk behavior occurs.

When people drink and do drugs, it is hard for them to make safe choices about having sex. Not using alcohol and drugs before having sex is a very important part of preventing STDs.

Unless your sex partners are tested and treated for an STD, you can get the disease again. A person who tells you that you need to be tested for STDs is honest, smart and concerned about health. Thank the person and get treated.

Some ways to protect yourself from STDs:

  • Abstain from sex
  • Know that many STDs have no symptoms
  • Know that birth control pills do not prevent infections--you must use condoms along with birth control pills
  • Know your partners--go with them for STD and HIV tests
  • Be sure ALL sex partners are examined and treated if STD infection occurs
  • Have fewer sex partners
  • Change the ways you have sex so there is no risk of infection
  • Don't get drunk or high before having sex
  • Don't use IV street drugs--never share needles
  • Learn how to talk about condoms (rubbers) with all your sex partners
  • Learn the right way to use condoms
  • Use a new latex condom every time you have sex

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