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• If you’re sexually active, you’re at risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection. Getting screened for STIs is easy and can prevent health complications for you and your sexual partners.

Why you should get tested

If there’s a possibility you may have an STI, it’s important to get tested. Don’t wait for obvious symptoms to appear. Chlamydia, for example, has few recognisable symptoms, especially in women. You can be infected and not know.

Those particularly at risk of infection are young people who’ve had several partners and men who have sex with other men.

You can reduce the risk of infection by always using a condom. But not all STIs are passed on by vaginal or anal intercourse. Some can be picked up through oral sex too, while genital herpes just requires skin-to-skin contact.

Growing problem

The number of STIs has increased in recent years. According to the Health Protection Agency, the number of cases diagnosed in specialist clinics in the UK rose by three per cent in 2005, to 790,443.

One of the most common infections is chlamydia. In 2005, more than 100,000 new cases were diagnosed in the UK, up five per cent from 2004.

Where to get tested

See your GP or make an appointment at the genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic at your local hospital.

To find a GUM clinic:

  • Call the Department of Health’s sexual health helpline on 0800 567123
  • Use the fpa’s GUM clinic search

There are also special rapid testing clinics.

Some services are aimed specifically at younger people, such as Brook.

All these services are confidential. You’ll be asked your name, address and GP’s name, but you don’t have to give your real name and you can ask them not to contact your GP.

Diagnosis and treatment

The clinic will take a urine sample and, for women, a vaginal swab. A blood test may also be necessary.

It can take a week for test results to come back, so many clinics will diagnose you from symptoms alone (if there are any) and start treatment immediately.

Treatment can range from antibiotics (for chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis) to creams (for genital warts).

You’ll be advised not to have sex until you’ve finished the treatment. It’s also important to finish any antibiotics to ensure the infection doesn’t return. Most treatments are highly effective if taken properly.

Some infections, such as hepatitis B and genital herpes, can’t be cured. In both cases, the virus remains in your body. But you can be vaccinated against hepatitis B – ask your GP for details.

Herpes flares up from time to time. When it does, you can treat the sores with an over-the-counter cream, avoiding sex until they’ve gone. Using a condom won’t offer protection as it doesn’t cover the entire genital area.

If tests show you have HIV, you’ll receive specialist advice, counselling and treatment.

Telling your partners

If you do have an infection, you’ll be asked to contact anyone you’ve recently had sex with, so they can get treatment.

If you don’t want to do that yourself, clinic staff will contact them. They won’t give your name, but will say they believe a former partner has an infection and they should seek treatment.

Screening programmes

The Department of Health is introducing an England-wide screening programme for chlamydia, offering tests to those who seek contraceptive advice and through youth clubs. To find out if this is happening in your area, call the sexual health helpline on 0800 567123.

Boots is also providing free NHS chlamydia screening for 16 to 24-year-olds in London. This scheme is due to be assessed in November 2007 and may then be implemented nationwide.


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