Do I need STI screening?
Dear Dr Mitchell,
How often should I be getting regular screenings for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? I am a single woman who is dating and I always use a condom, but I know these do not protect against all STIs and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
It is extremely important to practise safe sex to reduce your risk of contracting a STI. The use of a male condom is a safe way to go, and if the male partner is unwilling to use a condom, then a female condom will definitely help to reduce your risk of exposure to STIs. The use of the condom does not completely eliminate the risk of all STIs. Proper use and disposal of the condom is important in reducing the risk of exposure. The storage of the condom when not sexually active is also important to reduce the risk of breakage from overexposure to extreme temperatures.
Condom usage will reduce the risk of contracting the human papilloma virus (HPV) and the herpes simplex viruses, but will not completely prevent them since these viruses might be in areas of the genital region, such as the buttocks, inner thigh and vulva, that the condom does not cover. However, condom usage will give you at least 75 per cent reduction in your risk of exposure to HPV and should always be used. HPV is the cause of cervical cancer.
It is important to do a full STI screening if you start a new relationship. Your partner should also get a screening test before you decide to become sexually active. A repeat test for HPV should be done six weeks later to ensure that it is truly negative before you can be sure. If you think that your partner cannot be trusted or if he definitely has other sexual contacts, you should screen for infections more often, or make an informed decision to discontinue the relationship to reduce your risk of exposure.
You should also do you Pap smear regularly, at least every two years, and do a screening test for HPV to determine if you are at high risk for cervical cancer. This is usually recommended if you are over 30 years old.
There is a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer that reduces your risk of having the HPV staying in your body and causing changes that can lead to cervical cancer. It is given in three doses. The first dose is followed by the second dose two months later and then the last in six months. It recommended from as early as 10 years old and is beneficial for older women up to 68 years old.
Consult your doctor who will advise you further and do the appropriate screening as required.
Dr Sharmaine Mitchell is an obstetrician and gynaecologist. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5 or fax to 876-968-2025. All responses are published. Dr Mitchell cannot provide personal responses.