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When is it necessary to take a swab STD test?

We answer some common questions about STD Swabs

Choosing the correct STD test to suit your needs can often be difficult. In this article we take a look at swab tests and answer a range of common questions about them, including when it’s appropriate to use them and what kinds of swab tests exist.

What is a swab STD test?

Just like with urine or blood, a swab test is a method of collecting a sample for testing against a number of STDs. The swab is rubbed against an area of potential exposure to collect mucus, discharge or fluid. It may also be rubbed against an open blister or lesion that may be caused by an STD. Once collected, the swab sample can be used to identify a range of STDs including chlamydiagonorrhoea and herpes depending on where the swab is used.

What kind of swab tests are there?

There are a variety of swab tests, each with their own needs and purpose, including: –

  • Anal swab – this is inserted in the anus to gain a sample of the mucous that lines the anus
  • Throat swab – this takes a swab from the back of the throat in order to test for the incidence of particular bacteria in that area
  • High vaginal swab – this is inserted into the vagina to gain a sample of vaginal discharge from within the vagina itself
  • Urethral swab – this is taken by inserting the swab into the male urethra to collect a sample
  • Symptomatic lesion swab – this is a swab that is taken from a lesion which is open and unhealed to determine what is causing it. Examples of this can include for syphilis and herpes testing.

When should I choose a swab test?

There are a number of occasions when a swab test is necessary to identify for an STD depending on the type of test that you require and the potential exposure that may have occurred.

Following anal or oral sex

Many STIs are localised to the area that was exposed during sexual contact meaning that unless you test within that area you can never be 100% confident that you don’t have the STD. Therefore if you’ve had anal or oral sex it’s necessary to swab in either the throat or anus or both, depending the sexual contact you’ve had.

In the instance of blisters or sores

If you’ve noticed a lesion, blister or sore that you believe could be the symptom of either herpes or syphilis there are a number of tests which allow you to swab the site of the lesion to identify the STD that’s causing it.

If the test requires it

Some tests may require a swab sample rather than a urine sample if the test that you’re taking requires it. For example the instant tests available from Your Sexual Health require a urethral or vaginal swab as the density of bacteria is greater than in urine. This improves the ability of the testing buffer or reagent to react with the STD if it is evident.

Is it necessary to get a vaginal swab STD test?

Unless the test specifically requires a vaginal swab such as with the Instant Tests on offer from Your Sexual Health, it’s often not necessary to use a vaginal swab. This is because a urine sample will usually identify the STI, in exactly the same way, with a comparable accuracy to a swab test. When you consider how easy it is to complete a urine sample test in comparison to completing a vaginal swab test, it’s often far more straightforward to opt for a urine only test.