Anyone who has had unprotected sex (including a condom slip or break) may be at risk of getting an STI.
Routine STI testing is recommended for all women having abortions because:
- STIs often have few or no symptoms, so testing might be the only way to find out if you are infected
- Many STIs are easily treated, but if left untreated may become painful or cause long term health problems
- Some STIs increase the risk of suffering post-abortion infection
STI testing at BPAS
We will explain which tests we can offer you as part of your NHS funded treatment. The tests are quick and convenient - a swab or urine test and blood sample is all we need. We may offer you a test for:
If you are paying for your own treatment and want to be tested for STIs, ask your nurse or healthcare professional for costs. They can also tell you about local NHS services that provide this service without a fee.
Chlamydia is a common bacterial infection, easily passed on through unprotected sex. If untreated, it can spread to the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can lead to lasting pelvic pain, fertility problems and ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the womb). In men, chlamydia can lead to painful infection in the testicles and possible reduced fertility.
Because chlamydia is the most common STI in the UK, regular testing is encouraged. Your local NHS has its own chlamydia test/testing process and tells us whether to offer you the NHS test, or BPAS' own test. The type of test used determines how you get your results (and if infection is found - how treatment is given and previous partners contacted).
BPAS tests for chlamydia using a swab (like a cotton bud) to collect cells from inside your vagina. We can also test for gonorrhoea using the same swab. It only takes a few seconds to get a sample and it doesn't hurt. You can use the swab yourself - see how to do this below. If you are given an NHS test, it may be similar to the BPAS swab test described or may require a urine sample.
Chlamydia is treated with a week long course of an antibiotic called doxycycline. If you cannot take doxycyline, a 3 day course of a different antibiotic called azithromycin is used. To avoid re-infection your partner must also be treated.
If you are experiencing symptoms of chlamydia infection, your abortion treatment may be delayed for a week until the infection is treated.
How to collect a swab sample
You will be shown how to do this at the clinic.
1. Insert the swab about 5cm (2 inches) inside the vagina.
2. Turn the swab in a gentle circular motion (rubbing it against the wall of the vagina) for about 30 seconds.
3. Open the tube - take care not to spill the liquid inside or touch the swab against anything.
4. Place the swab into the tube until the dark line on the swab lines up with the top of the tube.
5. Lean the swab against the tube rim to break it off at the dark line. Discard the top of the swab.
6. Replace the tube cap and return the sample to the BPAS staff member.
Gonorrhoea is a common bacterial infection, easily passed on through unprotected sex. Untreated gonorrhoea can spread to the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can lead to lasting pelvic pain, fertility problems and ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the womb). In men, gonorrhoea can cause a painful infection in the testicles and prostate gland, and could reduce fertility.
The same swab is used to test for both gonorrhoea and chlamydia.
Gonorrhoea is treated with a single dose of antibiotic tablets together with an antibiotic injection. To avoid re-infection your partner must also be treated. You will need to repeat your gonorrhoea test to make sure that the treatment was successful.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a viral infection that weakens the body's ability to fight illness. Although infection is not common it is still important to be tested because the earlier a diagnosis is made, the better the outcome is for those infected with HIV.
Once someone is infected with HIV the virus will remain in their body for the rest of their life. There is currently no cure for HIV but treatment can help most people with HIV to live much longer and feel well.
HIV is most often passed on during unprotected sex. It can also be passed on by sharing needles if injecting drugs or sharing drug-using equipment, and from mother to child during childbirth and breastfeeding.
A finger-prick test is used and you will be told the result straight away. Occasionally a larger sample of blood is taken for testing and the results are available in about a week. If your test results suggest an infection, we will arrange for specialist care for you within the NHS.
HIV is managed with medication known as Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). If you have had sex in the last 3 days (72 hours) with someone known to be HIV positive (or have been sexually assaulted), you can be given a short course of ART drugs (PEP) to help prevent infection. This should be sought as soon as possible from a GUM or Sexual Health Clinic or A&E department.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection passed on during sex and by skin contact with someone who has a sores or rash caused by syphilis. It can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy. Many years of untreated syphilis may cause serious damage to the heart, brain, bones, eyes and nervous system (and can be life threatening).
A blood sample is taken for testing.
If your syphilis screen suggests an infection, you will be referred to your closest NHS GUM service for further testing and treatment. Syphilis is treated with antibiotics.
We have strict rules to ensure that the information collected about you is kept safe and secure.
Tell us which personal telephone number, email or postal address is best to receive your test results in private.
You can choose to get your results by text, telephone, email or post. We will ask if it is OK for us:
- To leave a message (when we contact you to give you your results)
- To contact the NHS about your results (if we cannot contact you in person)
A password and unique reference number will be agreed at your consultation. This is to check your identity, and confirm that it is safe to discuss your test results over the phone.
If we cannot confirm your identity over the telephone (for example, if you have forgotten your password/reference number), you will be asked to return to the BPAS unit where your tests were done to discuss your results.
You will be told the result of your finger-prick HIV test at the clinic straight away. You will be advised of your other test results, about a week after the samples were taken. We will let you know if your test results are negative (which means you do not have an infection).
You will be asked to call the Results Service (or the Results Service will contact you), if:
- Your test results are positive (which means you have an infection), or
- The test results are unclear (so the test needs to be repeated)
Clients with an infection will be telephoned by a BPAS Sexual Health Nurse 2 weeks after they are given their results.
If your STI result is positive, your recent partners should be contacted so they can get tested and, if necessary, treated. Your partner(s) can be contacted on your behalf without sharing your identity. This may be done by BPAS or your local GUM (Genito Urinary Medicine) Clinic.
BPAS can give you advice and help if you want to contact them yourself.
Fertility and STI
Although chlamydia and gonorrhoea infection can sometimes affect fertility (following PID) it doesn't mean this will happen to you. There is no evidence to suggest that becoming infected with HIV or syphilis makes it more difficult to get pregnant.
It is important that you:
- Don't assume that you will not be able to get pregnant after an infection
- Continue to take contraceptive precautions if you do not want to start a family yet
Where else to get tested
It is not possible to return to BPAS for free re-testing after your abortion treatment - but you can get tested for free on the NHS. Find out about testing services below:
- Local NHS Genito Urinary Medicine (GUM) or Contraception and Sexual Health (CASH) services. See www.nhs.uk or www.bashh.org to find your closest clinic.
- Alternatively you could call the NHS National Sexual Health Helpline on 0300 123 7123
- Your GP
- Brook provides services for those aged under 25, see www.brook.org.uk for details
Free chlamydia testing is more widely available, especially for those aged under 25. It may also available at some pharmacies, youth services, colleges and www.freetest.me