4 Things You Should Do If You Think You Have an STI

Step-by-Step Guide to Protecting Yourself and Others

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common. There are an estimated 26 million new infections in the United States each year. Almost half of these occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24.

If you think you might have an STI, it is important to take steps to protect yourself and others. Because STIs don't always cause symptoms, testing is the only way to know if you have an STI. Knowing your status is the first step toward getting treatment and can help you avoid passing the infection on to others.

This article looks at four things you should do if you think you might have an STI.

1

Start Practicing Safer Sex

Torn packaging of wrapper containing a condom
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If you are in a sexual relationship and you think you might have an STI, it is your responsibility to protect both your partner and yourself from further infections. Ideally, this means talking to your partner about your concerns, getting tested, and abstaining from sex until you know your status.

If this isn't feasible for you, you can also start practicing safer sex if you haven't been doing so already.

Safer sex isn't foolproof. Diseases like herpes simplex virus (HSV) and human papillomavirus (HPV), for example, are spread through skin-to-skin contact. This means a barrier method like a condom may not cover all infected areas. Generally speaking, though, using a barrier will reduce your risk of passing along an infection.

Start practicing safer sex even if you think you have already exposed your partner to an STI. Not every disease is transmitted every time you have sex. It's never too late to start being safer.

2

Get Tested

Blood and urine samples with medical results
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You can't be sure you don't have an STI just because you don't have symptoms. Many STI infections are asymptomatic. The best way to know if you are infected is to get tested.

It's much better to know for sure if you have an STI than to think you might have one. To find out, you will need to visit a healthcare provider, a public agency, or a clinic. When you go, you should:

  1. Tell your healthcare provider why you think you have an STI. For example, if you were contacted by a former partner who has symptoms, explain this to your healthcare provider.
  2. Tell your healthcare provider when you think you might have been exposed to the STI.
  3. If you have previously been tested, tell your healthcare provider the date of your last test. Make sure to confirm what they are going to test you for.

Certain STI tests may take several weeks or more to return results. It is also important to remember that there is usually a short "window period" between the time you were exposed and the time you will test positive if you are infected. This means you may have to wait before you get your test.

If you are tested prematurely within the so-called window period, it is possible that an STI test might return a false negative result.

Some STIs like HIV are detected through an antibody test. If you've been exposed to one of these diseases, your healthcare provider may ask you to come back for a repeat test after a month or more. With HIV, for example, even the newest tests require you to wait at least 15 to 20 days after a suspected exposure. This is because it takes time for antibodies to build up in your blood.

3

Start and Complete Treatment

Pill Hearts design
Mmdi / Getty Images

If you are diagnosed with a bacterial STI, it is important to complete your full prescribed treatment. This is true even if you feel better before it is finished.

Not taking all of your antibiotics increases your risk of developing an antibiotic-resistant infection. Antibiotic-resistant infections are much harder to treat.

Antibiotic resistance rates are rising rapidly in North America. Today, six previously recommended antibiotics are resistant to gonorrhea. These include:

  • Sulfonamides
  • Penicillins
  • Tetracyclines
  • Macrolides
  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Early-generation cephalosporins

If you are in a sexual relationship, it is a good idea to stop having sex until both you and your partner have completed treatment. Otherwise, you risk passing the infection back and forth.

If you are diagnosed with an incurable viral STI like HIV, HPV, or HSV, talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to manage your infection. You will need to consider how to manage your condition and also lower your risk of passing it on to others.

You can still have an active sex life if you have one of these infections. For the sake of your body and your relationship, though, you need to make sure your infection is carefully managed.

4

Talk to Your Partners About Your Diagnosis

Cropped shot of young woman texting on smartphone
Cultura/Chad Springer / Getty Images

If you're diagnosed with an STI, let your current partners know they may have been exposed. It's also a good idea to reach out to recent partners even if you're no longer having sex with them.

Talking to former partners can be difficult. If you don't feel like you can raise the subject with them in person, consider using an online service. These services let you send an anonymous email to your former partners that inform them they may have an STI.

Some STIs are notifiable. This means testing providers are required by law to inform your partners that they may be infected. This is done privately, without including your name.

CDC Nationally Notifiable STIs

In the United States, the seven notifiable STIs are:

An acute infection is a new infection that that the body is able to clear. A chronic infection is one that persists for longer than six months.

Summary

If you think you might have an STI, it is important to take steps to get diagnosed and treated and to avoid passing it on. Have a frank conversation with your partner and either avoid sexual contact or practice safer sex until you've been diagnosed.

Start treatment as soon as you can and complete the full course of prescribed medication. It is also important to contact any past partners so they can be tested and treated, too.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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