Diagnosing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is of vital importance, not only so that treatment can be started early in order to prevent long-term complications but also to prevent transmission and protect communities. There is a wide array of tests available to check for the various organisms that cause STDs including trichomonas, Chlamydia, hepatitis, herpes, HIV and gonorrhoea, amongst others.
Diagnosis and routine screening to rule out STDs should be carried out under the following circumstances:
Presence of STD symptoms. These include:
discharge from the vagina or penis
lesions (blisters, warts or chancre sores)
pain during urination or intercourse
recurrent infections and weight loss (seen in HIV infections)
jaundice (seen in hepatitis infections)
generalized symptoms such as fever and body ache
When a couple want to receive a clean bill of sexual health before engaging in sexual intercourse
When a woman is pregnant and needs screening to ensure no infection is passed onto the baby and to check the baby for infection if the mother is found to be infected.
When blood, blood products, organs and tissues are being used for donation
High risk groups such as drug abusers or commercial sex workers need monitoring for infection.
Diagnostic tests for STDs
Detailed history of sexual intercourse with individuals in the recent past, along with history of symptoms.
Blood tests for the detection of microbes
Urine samples for the presence of microbes
Discharge from genital sores, ulcers or from the vagina and penis are examined under the microscope for the presence of microbes
The Pap test is performed to screen all women for the abnormal structure of cervical cells. These can arise as a result of infection with certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Starting from the age of 21, all women should receive a Pap smear every three years.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc