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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), refer to conditions that can pass from person to person through sexual contact. They are common infections that people unknowingly transmit. Many quick, safe, and readily available tests can help prevent further transmission and health complications.
- Best cost-effective option: Everlywell
- Best testing range: LetsGetChecked
- Best in-person test: Quest Diagnostics
Rather than use the older term STDs, many doctors now tend to refer to these conditions as STIs. Early detection and treatment are vital to prevent transmission and complications.
Regular testing is important, and healthcare professionals can advise about STI tests. If people do not feel comfortable doing so, many clinics, pharmacies, or services can provide confidential and free or low-cost testing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
Why people should test for STIs
Routine testing for STIs is essential, as early detection and treatment can help prevent health complications. Many people may consider an STI test after noticing symptoms. However, some people may not be aware they have an STI, as some conditions, such as chlamydia, may not present any symptoms.
Each STI has a different incubation period, referring to how long it takes for symptoms to appear. In some cases, tests can detect an STI after a few days, while other STIs may not show up on a test for many months. Many STIs are treatable with early detection, and medications are available to help manage the symptoms of others.
Who should have a test for STIs?
Some doctors suggest that people who may be at higher risk, such as during pregnancy or those with multiple or anonymous partners, may require more frequent testing.
What STIs should people test for?
Typically, sexual health clinics test for the more common STIs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. If people know that a previous partner has tested positive for a specific STI, it is advisable to get tested for the same STI. A person can also discuss their sexual and STI testing history with a healthcare professional, who can offer help and suggestions about appropriate tests.
To get a reliable test result, people should perform the test within a specific timeframe after exposure due to incubation periods. Below are some common STIs and their
|Gonorrhea||5 days to 2 weeks|
|Trichomoniasis||1 week to 1 month|
|Hepatitis||9–10 weeks for hepatitis B (HBV)|
up to 3 weeks for hepatitis C (HCV)
|HIV||10–33 days for a nucleic acid test|
18–45 days for an antigen
23–90 days for an antibody test
|Syphilis||within 2 weeks of sores appearing|
Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurance plans typically cover some STI tests as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some people may choose to see their doctor or visit a sexual health clinic for an STI test, while others may prefer at-home tests. A
Individuals have many options for STI testing, some of which include:
Most primary health providers have facilities to screen for STIs. Depending on the history and exam results, a health professional can collect samples through swabs, urine, or blood samples.
Some clinics can test the sample on-site, while others send the samples to a laboratory. People can expect results within a few days to a week. Depending on the results, doctors may prescribe antibiotics or antiviral medications.
However, visiting a doctor for STI screening and treatment may be expensive and may range from $50–200 without health insurance coverage. People should check their insurance coverage and co-pays first before visiting their doctor.
City health centers and community clinics
Some city health centers or community clinics may offer testing services. Many offer both appointment and walk-in services.
Aside from free testing and treatment for STIs, health centers also provide pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a preventive treatment for HIV. They may also offer family planning services, counseling, and free condoms for STI protection.
Urgent care centers
Many urgent care centers can offer discreet, immediate diagnosis and treatment for individuals who do not want to go to their primary care provider. However, some of these centers do not have lab or diagnostic testing capacities.
Urgent care doctors will also provide the appropriate medications. However, if the STI has progressed beyond what prescription medication can treat, it may be necessary for individuals to follow up with their health providers.
Most insurance companies cover urgent care visits, but most often, individuals need to pay a deductible.
Pharmacies and big-box retailers
Most pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, and big-box retailers, such as Target and Walmart, sell home-test kits for STIs. However, a person should know which STIs they are checking for before buying.
Some grocery and pharmacy chains also have low cost health clinics that may also provide STI testing. However, unlike at-home tests, these kits may only test for a limited range of STIs.
Lab-based tests and at-home tests
Some providers, such as QuestDiagnostics, allow people to choose whether to buy at-home test kits or to schedule an appointment online and perform a test in person in one of their labs. Other providers, such as Everlywell and LetsGetChecked, allow a person to choose a specific test from a range of tests available on their website.
The costs of kits vary according to the type of test and the provider but typically range from $49–249, with more expensive options testing for a wider range of STIs.
Samples from at-home tests undergo the same analysis as lab tests and are just as accurate. However, it is important to carefully follow the instructions for how to collect and store the samples.
Below is a comparison of the providers mentioned above:
|Tests included||chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, trichomoniasis, and herpes simplex virus type 2||chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, HIV, syphilis, gardnerella, mycoplasma, ureaplasma||chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV|
Local Planned Parenthood health center
Planned Parenthood health centers also offer STI testing. They receive government reimbursements and grants from public programs, such as Medicaid and Title X, which means people can get STI testing and treatment for free or at a very low cost, depending on their income, demographics, and eligibility.
Students enrolled at universities can visit their student health centers, which may supply STI tests for roughly $10–20. Most cities also have LBGTQ+ community centers that can help with STI testing.
Mobile reproductive health centers can also offer community-based STI screenings and other reproductive health services to migrants, people from low-income households, people who do not have insurance, people from marginalized groups, people living in rural areas, and others. This Mobile Health Map provides a list of participating mobile health clinics throughout the U.S.
Most STI tests only require a urine, blood, or swab sample and do not typically require the assistance of a health professional. However, a healthcare professional will need to carry out a Pap smear, which checks for human papillomavirus (HPV), to ensure the safety and accuracy of the test. If a person is experiencing symptoms, such as warts, sores, or lesions, it is advisable to talk with a doctor.
Also, while individuals can order most tests online or buy them in stores, some states require a doctor’s order to authorize a lab test.
Below we look at some common questions and answers relating to STI testing.
How much do STI tests cost?
Most insurance plans will cover some form of STI testing, but some tests, such as the at-home STI tests mentioned in this article, typically range from $49–250.
How are STI tests done?
Typically, STI tests require either a urine, blood, or swab sample from the mouth, genitals, or anus. Some STI tests require a combination of samples.
How long do STI tests take?
Except for rapid HIV tests, which can show results in about 20 minutes, most other STI test results take between 2 days to 1 week.
How much is STI testing at Planned Parenthood?
Planned Parenthood offers STI testing at a reduced cost, or sometimes free, depending on an individual’s eligibility.
Does urgent care do STI tests?
Yes, urgent care does STI tests and can also provide appropriate antibiotic and antiviral medications.
Usually, a person can manage and treat STIs with early detection and intervention.
There are many STI testing options available that allow people to test themselves routinely. Untreated STIs can cause permanent damage to a person’s reproduction and health.