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Tests and exams
Testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be done at a public health unit, health clinic or doctor’s office. A visit may take between 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the clinic and what tests you need. It may be helpful to bring a checklist to talk with your health care provider about what tests you might need.
A few questions first
To decide what exams or tests you might need, the health care provider will ask you questions about your sexual health history. To get the best care, it helps to be as honest as you can. Ask questions if you need more information.
In BC, positive test results for HIV, chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea and hepatitis C are shared with public health to ensure that you and your partners are offered treatment, support and follow-up.
When you test for HIV, you may choose to use your name (nominal testing), or initials and birth date (non-nominal testing).
STI and HIV testing is confidential, which means your health information is private.
What tests are usually done
STI testing is done by taking swabs and collecting body fluids, which are sent to the lab. Testing for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis is done with a blood sample. Testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea is done with a urine sample, and/or a swab of your genitals, throat or anus. If you have symptoms, other swabs, tests or exams may be recommended.
- Men usually have a blood test, urine test and may have throat and rectal swabs.
- Women usually have a blood test and a pelvic exam or a urine test. During the pelvic exam, the health care provider takes swabs from the cervix and/or vagina to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea. A Pap test may also be done.
Types of STI tests and exams that may be done:
Pelvic Exam: There are two parts to a pelvic exam.
- Speculum exam. A speculum is placed into the vagina and gently opened. Swabs are taken from the vagina or cervix and sent to the lab for STI testing.
- Bimanual exam. This is done to check your uterus (womb), fallopian tubes, and ovaries. The health care provider will place two gloved, lubricated fingers into your vagina, and will gently press on your lower belly with the other hand. You may feel pressure, but it shouldn't be painful.
Urine tests: You will be asked to pass urine into a cup. The tests are most accurate if you have not passed urine for 2 hours before giving the urine sample.
Swab tests: Swab tests are done with a sterile q-tip that is sent to the lab for testing. Swabs may be taken from the vagina, cervix, penis, throat, anus or skin.
- Vaginal and cervical: A sterile q-tip is used to take a swab from the cervix or vagina. This test is done if you have had vaginal sex or notice changes such as increased fluid or a change in fluid from your vagina. A Pap test may be done at the same time.
- Urethral (penis): A swab from the penis is usually done when there is discharge from the penis or burning when peeing. A very small, sterile q-tip is gently placed into the tip of the penis. It can be uncomfortable for a moment, but is over quickly. This test is most accurate if you have not passed urine (peed) for 2 hours beforehand.
- Anal: A sterile q-tip is gently inserted into the anus and a swab is taken from the inside of the rectum. An anal swab is taken if you have had anal sex or notice changes such as pus, pain or bleeding from the rectum.
- Throat: A sterile q-tip is used to swab the throat. A throat swab is taken if you have had oral sex or a sore throat.
Blood tests: Both syphilis and HIV testing are done on blood samples. HIV testing is done in two ways.
- Antibody/Antigen testing: A blood sample will be taken from your arm in the clinic or you may be sent to a lab to have your blood drawn.
- Rapid test or point of care (POC) testing: This test is being used in many areas of BC. Check with your local clinic to see if it is available. This test is done with a small drop of blood taken from a finger prick. The results are available in 60 seconds. If the Rapid test shows that you have HIV antibodies, meaning you are positive for HIV, then a second blood test is done to confirm the result. The second blood sample is taken from your arm and sent to a lab for testing.