Sexual health check up
When was the last time you went for a sexual health check? It might feel a bit daunting, but regular check ups are important if you’re sexually active. To find out what goes on, what might get looked at, and what tests are involved, Katie Haylor headed over to Cambridgeshire sexual health charity Dhiverse to meet Meg Veit and Grant Chambers...
Katie - Hello! Are you Meg?
Meg - I’m Meg, nice to meet you!
Katie - Nice to meet you.
Meg - And this is Grant.
Katie - Hi Grant. I’m Katie.
Meg - My name is Meg. I am the young people's service manager at Dhiverse, we do all sorts of things including HIV support, but also education and training for young people, professionals, people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and really anybody that wants to learn about sex and sexual heath.
Katie - Right. Meg, I walk into a sexual health clinic. What happens?
Meg - You'd speak to the receptionist, and then when you go in, you’d speak to a sexual health nurse or doctor, they'd ask you some questions about who you are, your health, and your lifestyle, and then also often about the kinds of sex that you've had before. These questions aren't to be invasive or to judge you, they're just about working out what kind of tests you need.
Katie - And those tests could involve weeing in a pot, using a swab in your vagina, or in your anus, or in your mouth, and you might need to do a blood test. It's not always necessary to actually look at your bits, but it might be.
Meg - If you have symptoms, so maybe you have some lumps and bumps or sores that you want somebody to have a look at, and that's why you were there, then they would ask to have a check. They're very good about making you feel comfortable and you can also bring somebody with you. You can have another person in the room, but you don't have to do that every time. And if you have no symptoms it's unlikely they'll want to see you naked.
Katie - And how long might I be waiting for my results?
Meg - Takes about 10 working days and then they'll give you any follow up advice after that as well.
Katie - And if the test is positive?
Meg - So they might prescribe you some treatment, see if you need some follow up appointments. There's no STI you can get where they can't help you manage it. A lot of STIs are curable as well. They also might refer you to get some psychological support if you feel like you might need help with how you feel about that diagnosis, which is something that we offer free here at Dhiverse with our trained counsellor.
Katie - Dhiverse do a couple of STI tests, one being for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, which is a test that they offer to young people in Cambridgeshire, and Meg took me through it.
Meg - I’d give you either a little swab, and there's also a little pot which is for doing a urine sample. So it was just a little wee sample, you could just go and do these on your own in the toilet and then bring them back to me when you're finished.
Katie - Almost like a film canister, but see-through, and presumably you need to have quite a good aim?
Meg - They are a little bit on the smaller side I'll give you that. It's worth noting that we put it inside another pot, and put the lid on, so if you do splash wee on the outside, it's really not the end of the world.
Katie - OK so it's not that big a deal.
The vaginal swab looked just like a cotton bud you might use to take off mascara, but with a much longer handle.
Meg - The cotton bit, that's the only bit that needs to go inside your vagina. Just need to put it in for a few seconds. The key is to give it a nice little twizzle while it's inside. You just pick up those cells to make sure you get a good sample and then put it back in the little tube it comes in. You don't need to shove it all the way up there, which is a mistake that I made in my youth. You only need to put it in a little tiny bit and you hardly feel it at all. If you come back positive for chlamydia or gonorrhoea, it’ll be a little course of antibiotics and then another test to make sure that it's definitely gone.
Katie - If my test result is positive, what about my sexual partners?
Meg - So one of the things that's really really good about sexual health clinics, is they have a service to help you do this. So if you think there's anybody that does need to know they can actually send messages around for you anonymously.
Katie - Another test the diverse team can do is for HIV. It's called an INSTI test, and you get the results there and then.
Grant - So my name is Grant and I'm the health promotion and training manager for Dhiverse. But one of the little extra things which I do, is I can give people finger prick tests for HIV. And that's what's in front of me at the moment. It just contains various chemicals, a little lancette with which you can prick your finger, the same kind of thing that you would use to test your blood sugar levels if you were diabetic.
Katie - Grant explained the reason they do these INSTI tests is because although it's possible to manage HIV very effectively with treatments, late diagnosis can be a problem. If you only become aware you have HIV when you start to get ill, treatment can be a bit more difficult.
Grant - So we really want to make sure that people living with HIV find out about that as soon as possible so that they can start on treatment, and that's what this service is about. We do need to have a chat beforehand to make sure that someone can give informed consent to have the test. And that's really because you get the result there and then. So we need to make sure that they are prepared and they've got the right information to be able to process that result when they get it. So the lancette is this little yellow cylinder. You just press it down and then, it’s a little blob of blood. You gather the blood in a pipette, and you put it in a little cup shaped container. Add various different chemicals, and like some pregnancy tests the results are determined by the number of dots that appear. So if no dots appear, that means the test hasn't worked which is quite unusual. If one dot appears that means the test has worked and it's saying that your negative, non-reactive I should say. And if two dots appear that means the test is reactive and it's saying that you do have HIV.
Katie - Grant did note that this particular test has a false positive rate of 1 in 200.
Grant - So it says you have HIV, but in one in two hundred cases you don't have HIV. So every time we have a positive, a reactive result, we fast track that person to one of the sexual health clinics so they can have a checkup, have an intravenous blood test and get their medical follow up that they need. We can offer psychological support around some of the social issues, for example coping with prejudice and stigma around HIV.