No one really enjoys going to see the doctor—especially if you suspect you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and need to get tested for it. Ignorance may be bliss, but suffering through a STI certainly is not.
If left untreated, STIs can lead to serious and painful long-term consequences like infertility and cancer.
Regular testing (every six months) for STIs is recommended if you have had unprotected sex with a partner who engages in high-risk behavior such as using injected drug or having unprotected sex with other (perhaps even multiple) partners.
Female Network visited different health clinics and talked to their staffs to give you a realistic idea of what to expect when getting checked for a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
STEP 1: GETTING CHECKED
You may choose to walk into a clinic and simply ask to for a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or HIV test even without a consultation. However, it may be more prudent to consult a gynecologist or your family doctor, who may in turn refer you to an infectious diseases doctor, depending on your concern.
STEP 2: FILLING OUT FORMS
You will need to fill out forms with standard personal information such as your name, address, age, and birthday.
HIV testing, however, has an additional requirement since mandatory testing for HIV is unlawful in the Philippines. Alma Moral, the medical laboratory manager of Healthway Clinic, says, “The patient will be asked to sign a consent form certifying that they are voluntarily undergoing this (HIV) test.”
“In addition, the patient will undergo a counseling session with the lab staff assigned to HIV testing. The HIV antibody test, the benefits of taking it, as well as the confidentiality of the test results are also explained,” says Moral.
STEP 3: THE INTERVIEW
Expect to be asked questions about your lifestyle and your sexual history. Don’t worry—most doctors treat STI consultation and testing as a delicate matter and will exercise sensitivity when asking questions.
Dr. Bernadette Seludo, a doctor who speciales in infectious diseases at the Mega Clinic and serves as secretary of the Philippine Hospital Infection Control Society, says that she always tries to establish a rapport and gain the trust of her patients before asking questions. “This is a difficult topic that requires empathy on our part,” says Seludo.
Remember to think about when you first started experiencing symptoms that prompted you to visit the doctor. It is important to tell the truth so that you will be diagnosed properly.
STEP 4: TAKING THE TEST
Most STIs are caused by either bacteria or viruses. A vaginal smear, in which a sample of vaginal mucous is gathered, may be used to detect bacterial infections such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia. Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat these STIs.
A blood extraction will be done to detect STIs caused by viruses, such as HIV. These types of STIs are not curable, but can be controlled.
STEP 5: WAITING FOR TEST RESULTS
You will need to go back to the clinic to get your test results. It may be a good idea to have a friend go with you for moral support, but the test results will only be released to you.
For HIV tests, before results are released, you will also undergo post-test counseling—whether or not your test results are positive.
Moral explains, “If the result is negative, the lab staff shall explain to the patient that he or she is not infected with HIV. The patient will also be reminded that it takes the body time to produce antibodies so that if the patient had been exposed recently, the patient needs to be retested in several months to make sure she or he is not infected.”
“If the test result is positive, a Department of Health (DOH)–issued form for HIV case reporting will be filled out and signed by the doctor after the counseling. The patient will be referred to either San Lazaro Hospital or the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine for confirmatory testing.”
The patient will also be advised about treatment options that are available. Nurse Malou Tan explains, “At this point, our priority is to allay the patient’s fears. We will talk about the free treatment options available and inform him or her about the importance of being healthy. The patient will need to care of him or herself to avoid opportunistic infections that will lower his immune system.”
Remember that a negative result does not equal immunity. Though you may come out negative now, you still need to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself. Correct and consistent use of condoms is your best protection—this is one case where an ounce of prevention (that is, a rubber) is worth a pound of cure.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Whether or not you are infected, you still retain the full range of rights when undergoing STI testing. It's important to be aware of these so you can exercise them if you so choose.
For example, you are entitled to pre- and post-test counseling.
In the Manila Social Hygiene Clinic, DOH-trained peer educator volunteers are on-hand to conduct counseling sessions and even just talk to patients. Ryan Pinili, a peer educator volunteer says, “Having someone their own age to talk to helps the patient open up about their condition, their lifestyle, and concerns.”
For more information about STI testing, you may want to refer to the following sources:
(Photo source: sxc.hu)