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Not Having Symptoms Doesn’t Mean Not Getting Tested

Advance With MUSC Health
June 28, 2021

Women's health experts address the importance of testing and treatment for STDs

Here's a not so fun fact: Not all sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have symptoms. This means individuals may choose to not get tested causing long-term effects on their health, as well as unknowingly passing an STD to partners.

MUSC Women's Health Experts, Jessica Tarleton, M.D., Gweneth Lazenby, M.D. and Oriel Nissim, M.D., recently discussed the importance of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The three providers specialize in infectious diseases that affect pregnancies and women's reproductive health.

MUSC Women's Health encourages annual testing for STDs for women aged 25 years and younger, as well as testing if with a new sexual partner. Yearly screening for STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis is encouraged for women in that 25 years of age and younger category. HIV and syphilis testing are encouraged at least once.

"What I advise people that I take care of is if you have had a new sexual partner and you haven't used any kind of barrier of protection, like a condom, it is a good idea to consider getting a test for STDs," said Dr. Lazenby.

This may not be the easiest conversation for patients to have. Dr. Tarleton addressed that this can be a challenge, but shouldn't be something that keeps patients from speaking up.

"All of our providers at MUSC really practice very non-judgmental care. Do not feel hesitant about bringing up these health issues. This is what we're here for."

STDs can also have major impacts on pregnancy. MUSC Women's Health conducts STD testing when women come in for their initial pregnancy appointment. It is encouraged for patients to initiate prenatal care as soon as they know they are pregnant to ensure any potential disease is caught and treated in a timely manner.

"Certainly, in pregnant women we encourage testing because STDs like syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia can have an impact on the pregnancy and on the baby," Dr. Lazenby emphasized.One STD that has grown exponentially in recent years in syphilis. Dr. Tarleton even said that many individuals, including medical students, fail to realize how prominent it is throughout the United States. Congenital syphilis has quadrupled in the last five years and can cause stillbirth and miscarriages.

Something that all three doctors stressed is that the best way to handle sexually transmitted diseases is through prevention. Barrier methods like condoms are an easily available option and there are even vaccines that prevent the spread of STDs such as HPV, and Hepatitis A and B.

Another form of prevention, specific to HIV, is a daily oral medication called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP. Dr. Nissim explained that this is a medication that they can offer to patients during their appointment and it is able to significantly lower your risk of getting HIV. This is a medication that patients can discuss with their provider should they feel they are at-risk of contracting HIV."It is kind of a revolutionary idea that a single pill taken every day can nearly completely eliminate the risk of acquiring HIV," said Dr. Tarleton.

A beneficial offering in terms of treatment in the state of South Carolina is the ability for providers to treat patients and their partners for sexually transmitted diseases at the same time. Not only is this convenient, but it also helps to ensure patients and their partner do not have any ongoing infections or continued transmission. Patients can inquire with their provider about partner treatment for more information.

MUSC Women's Health can provide testing during an existing appointment or patients can schedule an appointment separately. They also encouraged individuals to keep an eye out for periodic free testing at various Department of Health locations around the state.

A final note that can be forgotten is returning for follow up STD testing after treatment. Patients should not wait another full calendar year and should schedule an appointment within a few months for re-testing to ensure there is not a repeat infection.

To learn more and find an MUSC Women's Health location near you, please visit MUSC Women's Health Gynecology page.

For more details, check out the full video of Drs. Lazenby, Nissim and Tarleton’s discussion on the MUSC Women's Health Facebook page.