SWABS AND URINE TESTING
Testing for some STIs are done by either a swab (swabs are like Q-tips with a long handle) or a urine test. The doctor will help you decide which testing is most appropriate for you.
CLIENTS WITH PENISES
Chlamydia & Gonorrhea: A urine test. It is important that clients do not urinate for 2 hours prior to the test. So if their test is at 3pm, they should not urinate between 1pm and 3pm. They will need to urinate in a sterile container at our clinic.
Herpes: A swab test. A sore/lesion must be present and testing should be done within 48 hours of the onset of the symptoms. The doctor will take a swab of the sore/lesion to test for the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
CLIENTS WITH VAGINAS
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea: A swab test. The doctor will insert a swab and take a specimen from the vagina. Typically, swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhea are done at the same time.
Note: Doctors may suggest or clients may elect to self collect their swabs. For more information about the process, please review the instructions here.
Herpes: A swab test. A sore/lesion must be present and testing should be done within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. The doctor will take a swab of the sore/lesion to test for the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
For STI tests that require swabs, it is best if you are not on your period. The blood from your period can make it difficult for the folks at the lab to accurately diagnose an infection. So please take that into account when you are booking your appointment. If your period is light, it may not interfere with the STI test.
A Pap test is not the same thing as an STI check. When you are booking your appointment, you should be clear if you want just a Pap, just an STI test, or if you want both a Pap and STI check. Typically, we do STI checks with all Paps, but you can always have just one of these tests if you’d prefer.
We test for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and syphilis through blood work. They are antibody tests. This means that they measure your immune system’s response to the virus, not the virus itself.
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, you should wait at least 14 weeks to get tested after the potential exposure (e.g., unprotected vaginal or anal sex; unsafe tattooing; sharing equipment for IV drug use; sharing other drug paraphernalia such as straws/bills/crack pipes, etc.). The wait is important so that we can measure accurately.
If you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and/or syphilis, you should wait at least 2-4 weeks to get tested after the potential exposure. Even if your test is negative, it may be a good idea to come back for follow-up testing as these viruses/bacteria can take longer than 4 weeks to cause changes in your body that we can measure.
Testing for blood-borne pathogens (HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis) without previous risk (baseline testing) can be done at any time.
WHAT WE CANNOT TEST FOR
Currently, there is no blood test available in Nova Scotia to detect human papillomavirus (HPV – the virus that causes genital warts and cervical cancer).
Pap tests screen for cervical cell changes that can be caused by strains of HPV. Therefore, if someone has abnormal Pap test results, it is a good indication that they are carrying a strain of HPV. Currently, in Nova Scotia, we do not offer testing to detect early cell changes in the anus/rectum or throat caused by HPV.
HPV can be diagnosed visually (warts), but clients need to have a symptom in order to be diagnosed by a doctor. Anyone who ever notices any unusual lumps, bumps, blisters, etc. on their genitals should call their family doctor or our clinic to arrange an appointment as soon as possible.
If someone has symptoms of herpes simplex virus (HSV), such as genital blisters or a cold sore, we can swab it and send the sample to the lab for confirmation. However, there is no blood test available in Nova Scotia to detect HSV. In other words, if you do not have any symptoms, we are unable to do any testing that would allow us to tell you whether or not you are carrying the virus.
OTHER IMPORTANT INFORMATION
- You may still be infected with an STI, even if you cannot see visible lesions, warts, or discharge. Many people with STIs do not have any symptoms, but they can still pass the infection onto their partners. It is important to talk to your sexual partners about getting tested for STIs and about practicing safer sex (e.g., using condoms and oral dams, participating in low-risk sexual behavior, etc.).
- You should wait at least two weeks from the time of sexual activity before you get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea. It can take this long for the bacteria to reach a level that we can accurately measure. However, if you are symptomatic, you can come in sooner for testing.
- When you call for a FULL STI check (swabs, urine testing, physical exam, and blood work), you actually need to book 2 separate appointments – 1 for the swabs, urine testing, and physical exam, and the other for blood work. We will do our best to coordinate these appointments so that you can get everything done in the same visit. However, this may mean a longer wait for you. Your other option is to come in on 2 separate days to have these tests done. Our average wait time for an appointment is 4-6 weeks from the day you call.
- It takes about 2 weeks for the results of the STI tests to come back to our clinic from the lab. Our policy is “No news is good news”. This means that if all of your tests come back negative (i.e., you do NOT have an STI), we will not call you. However, if a positive result comes back, we will call to let you know and help you receive the treatment/medication you need. So please make sure we have a reliable phone number and/or e-mail address for you on file. If you cannot provide us with this information (e.g. you are in the process of moving), we suggest that you book an appointment for two weeks after your test to get the results in person.
- We can NOT let you know if your results are in and we can NOT give results over the phone. Some patients are not content with “no news is good news”. Those patients will need to book a second appointment to get the result.
- If you test positive for an STI, we highly recommend that you inform all sexual partners you’ve had in the past 3 months. If you are uncomfortable doing this, we can put you in touch with a public health nurse who will call your partners for you. The public health nurse will not give any of your identifying information to the people they call. They will simply say something like, “Someone you have been sexually active with in the past few months has just tested positive for chlamydia. We encourage you to get tested as soon as possible.” If you have any questions or concerns about this, please chat with one of our nurses or doctors.
- If we are unable to book you an appointment to get tested right away, you may want to consider the STI clinic at the V.G. Hospital. It is a walk-in clinic (i.e., you do not need an appointment) on the 5th Floor of the Dickson Centre (University Avenue) that is open Monday and Thursday evenings from 4:30 – 6:30 pm. They can do all testing (swabs, urine, and blood work) in one appointment.It is a first come,first served and they do have a limit in the number that they see each clinic.
- Swabs and urine samples are labeled with names and health card information for the lab to process. If you need your samples or swabs unlabeled (“coded”), for privacy reasons, such as knowing someone who works in the lab, there will be a fee.