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The STI Screening/Antivirus Software Analogy and Mindset Divergence
Although the use of computer antivirus software to detect viruses which infect our computers is akin to STI
screening for early detection of sexually transmitted infections, the traditional thinking with regard to both
issues is usually, but should not be, quite disparate. Most people that use computers are aware of the need to
avoid their computers becoming infected with viruses and thus have antivirus software installed to prevent
infections resulting from connecting with infected websites, flash drives or other removable media; yet, the
overwhelming majority of the same individuals do not share the same view with regard to STI screening as a means of
preventing the transmission and contraction of STI.
We have antivirus software installed on our computers because we don't know when we might contract a virus, worm,
Trojan horse, or some other form of malware from visiting an infected website or inserting a flash drive or CD that
has been previously inserted into someone else's infected computer, particularly if we are not thoroughly familiar
with those potential sources of infection. If we always inserted removable media from people we knew and trusted,
only visited trusted websites that we know are free of infection and only opened e-mail from trusted individuals we
know who have those same patterns of discretion there would be very little need for antivirus software. The truth
of the matter however is that these utopian conditions usually don't exist in our day-to-day use of computers, nor
do they exist in the intimate relations between people vis-a-vis the sexual mores of today.
If everyone, or even just the majority of people had sexual histories of celibacy or lifelong monogamous sexual
intimacy with an uninfected partner with the same history of lifelong monogamy STI screening would not be
necessary. Reality is such, however, that most people have had multiple sexual partners and usually do not know the
infection status of their partners prior to the encounters. Many individuals that transmit infection are not aware
of being infected because of the absence of symptoms. Based on reports from the CDC and elsewhere, one in four
individuals in the United States between the ages of 15 and 24 has some type of STI and the statistic is no
better on college campuses.
If an antivirus software program is configured so that auto-protect or real-time scanning is enabled it can usually
detect and prevent a virus from infecting a computer system when initial contact with the infected source is made.
Unfortunately however, a condom does not provide the same degree of protection for human beings who encounter a
source of STI. The best human counterpart to an antivirus software program with auto-protect or real-time scanning
enabled is accurate and reliable knowledge of an individual’s infectious status, derived from up-to-date mutual STI
screening, prior to intimate sexual contact with that individual.
Except for trichomonas which is caused by a parasite, the most common sexually transmitted infections are caused by
bacteria or viruses and can be screened for with the blood and/or urine tests. While these tests can be quite
expensive if ordered through a doctor’s office whether or not you have insurance, they tend to be less expensive if
ordered through an online lab service, particularly as part of a comprehensive screening panel rather than as
Unfortunately, with regard to the frequency and timing of testing, there is no one-size-fits-all STI screening
strategy. The test results from initial or subsequent screening obviously have a shelf life determined by changes
in sexual partners. Depending upon the number of changes and frequency of changes it may be necessary to up the
ante of STI screening closer to the auto protect or real-time scanning setting. Do the math.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a substitute for medical
consultation with a qualified professional. If you are seeking legal advice or are unsure about your medical
condition you should consult an attorney and/or physician.
Victor E. Battles, M.D. is a board-certified internist with 30 + years of patient contact. Dr. Battles has been a
principal investigator in several clinical research trials and is the founder of Proactive Health Outlet, a
resource providing self-help for improving health.
January 22, 2013
STI screening and testing
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