You should be getting an STD test every 3-6 months — here’s what to know

You should be getting an STD test every 3-6 months — here’s what to know
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There were nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017, making it the fourth straight year in a row of sustained upward trending STD rates nationwide.

And things aren’t looking great here at home. Mecklenburg County outpaces the state and the nation across the board on annual case rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, primary and secondary syphilis, HIV infection and AIDS. That’s according to NC DHHS and CDC surveillance reports from 2015-2017.

Given the prevalence of STDs in the area, we recently polled our newsletter audience to learn more about how Charlotteans approach STD testing and sexual health in general. Although it was a small sample set (1,016 responses), the feedback wasn’t encouraging.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they thought sexually active individuals should take an STD test after every sexual partner, but 38 percent said they personally hadn’t been tested in the last year, and another 24 percent said they had never been tested at all.

What’s more, a dismal 71 percent of respondents said they didn’t even know where to go in Charlotte to get a free STD test.

So let’s break it down.

I spoke with Matt Jenkins, HIV/STD Community Services Health Manager for Mecklenburg County Public Health, to answer all of our questions about STD testing.

How often should I take an STD test?

Recommendations vary according to your level of risk, meaning how often you’re having sex and how many different sexual partners you have.

According to Jenkins, if you’re sexually active you should plan to be screened for STDs every three to six months. At a minimum, everyone engaging in sexual activity should be screened annually.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of an STD, you should be tested and treated immediately.

Agenda 2019 Sex Survey results

If I don’t have any symptoms, do I still need to get tested?

Absolutely. STDs can be asymptomatic which means many people who are infected may not know it. You can still spread STDs to others even if you’ve never experienced any symptoms.

That’s why it’s critically important for all sexually active adults, even those in monogamous relationships, to be routinely screened every three to six months or, at a minimum, every year.

If I’m in a monogamous relationship, do I still need to get tested?

Yep. If you don’t have a history of routine STD testing, one or both partners may have entered into the relationship with an asymptomatic STD they didn’t know about.

Additionally, one or both partners may not consider the relationship to be truly monogamous. As Jenkins put it, “Unless you’re with them 24-7, you don’t really know.” Get tested.

Where can I get an STD test in Charlotte?

Free HIV/STD screening is available in Mecklenburg County at two Health Department clinics as well as at partner community sites. You can also request an STD test at your primary care doctor or visit a clinic such as Planned Parenthood, but you’ll want to check with your insurance provider for coverage and pricing.

Agenda 2019 Sex Survey results

Free STD testing at Health Department clinics in Charlotte

2845 Beatties Ford Road
249 Billingsley Road

8-11 a.m. & 1-4 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday
10 a.m. to 1 p.m. & 3-6 p.m. on Wednesday

Free screening for HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea is provided on a walk-in basis for those without symptoms. No appointment is needed.

If you know you’ve been exposed to an STD or are experiencing symptoms — including abnormal discharge, bumps, blisters or difficulty urinating — you’ll need an appointment for a free physical exam which can be booked by calling 704-336-6500.

Visit the Health Department’s STD testing site info page here.

Free STD testing at community sites in Mecklenburg County

Accessibility to STD testing is expanded thanks to services offered at non-traditional sites during alternate hours.

Second Tuesday of each Month
Location: Lake Norman Free Clinic, ​14230 Hunters Road, Huntersville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Services: Offering HIV, Syphilis, Hepatitis C, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea screening
Note: Spanish counseling available

​Every Tuesday
​Location: Northpark, 251 Eastway Drive, Charlotte
Hours: 6-8 p.m.
Services: Offering HIV, Syphilis, Hepatitis C, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea screening
Note: Spanish counseling available ​

Every Wednesday
Location: RAIN, 601 E. 5th St., Suite 470, Charlotte
Hours: 5-7 p.m.
Services: Offering HIV, Syphilis, Hepatitis C, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea screening​

Third Thursday of each month
Location: Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy, 1500 E 3rd St., Charlotte
Hours: 3:30-5:30 p.m.
Services: Offering HIV, Syphilis, Hepatitis C, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea screening

Visit the Health Department’s STD testing site info page here.

What should I expect at an STD test?

STD testing at Health Department clinics and community sites is free and confidential. Upon check-in you’ll meet with a counselor who will discuss your situation and risks. Your test could include a blood draw, swab, urine test and physical exam, depending on your situation.

Results are ready in about three days and are accessible online or via automated phone system with a unique ID and PIN. In the event of a positive result, you’ll be contacted directly over the phone to discuss treatment.

How can I avoid getting an STD?

Fifteen percent of respondents who identified as single in our survey said they abstain from sex altogether, which is the surest way to avoid STDs. But if you’re part of the majority sexually active population, there are other ways to stay safe.

  • Use protection – “It’s important to send a message that condom usage is still very effective,” Jenkins said. Proper use of latex condoms is an effective method for preventing STDs and pregnancy.
  • Talk to you partner – Get comfortable exchanging sexual health histories before engaging in sex with a new partner. “It’s about educating individuals on how to negotiate safer sex practices with their partners,” Jenkins said. Assume responsibility for your own sexual health no matter how uncomfortable it may feel at first. Nearly 30 percent of respondents in our survey said they never exchange sexual health histories with new partners.
  • Get tested – “The main thing is get tested,” Jenkins said. “Get tested and know.” Knowing your status helps you to protect yourself and others.

Learn more with the CDC’s Lowdown on How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

The bottom line is anyone who’s having sex needs to be tested for STDs, and the only way to get there is for us to destigmatize the experience.

You should feel as comfortable walking in to get a routine STD screening as you do going to get your teeth cleaned. Unfortunately, STD testing is still associated with shame and secrecy and embarrassment.

The solution, Jenkins says, is more education at every level — schools, the faith community and even the medical community.

“Everybody goes to the doctor for a primary care visit at some point, and I think that our providers in primary care have to be comfortable having those conversations,” Jenkins said. “There are a lot of providers that are but then there are those that will kind of gloss over the [STD] conversation.”

If STD testing isn’t a routine standard of care in your doctor visits, it’s important to be proactive and ask questions about your own sexual health.

“Don’t be afraid to ask the questions,” Jenkins said. “Don’t be afraid to have the conversation about your sexual health. I say to people that healthy is the new sexy. If you know what your sexual health status is, you’re sexy in that regard.”

Go get tested, Charlotte.

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