STD testing glossary

Health-related words can be overly confusing.
We've simplified them for you.

Testing terminology
Acute
An illness that comes on quickly and goes away quickly. Can be mild or severe.
Antibodies
Acting as the body's defense, these are protein molecules the body makes to fight infection. When a bacteria or virus is present, the body produces antibodies to fight it off.
Antigen
Any substance that can stimulate the production of antibodies and combine specifically with them.
Chronic
An illness that lasts for a long time and may come back. Can be mild or severe.
Cure
In the treatment of STDs, some infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea can be completely cured with proper use of medication.
Dental Dam
Dental dams are small, thin, square pieces of latex that cover the vulva or anus during oral sex.
Diagnosis
Diagnosis is the process of identifying an illness by physical exam and from the results of other tests and medical procedures. Screening tests are considered part of the diagnostic process.
Equivocal
A herpes test result can be "equivocal" which means that it's not strongly positive or negative. Usually requires retesting.
False negative
A "negative" STD test result means that there is no evidence of infection. A "false negative" result means that the test is wrong.It shows no sign of infection when the person has the infection. False negative results can happen if the test is done too early from the time of exposure or if the person is being treated for the disease or for other reasons. For anyone who is concerned that they have an STD, doctors recommend getting another test within 3 - 6 months for confirmation.
False positive
A "positive" STD test results means that there is evidence of infection. A "false-positive" result means that the test is wrong. It shows signs of infection when the person does NOT have the infection. That is why doctors recommend that positive test results be confirmed with another test within 3 - 6 months.
Indeterminate
The term "indeterminate" means that the test isn't strongly positive or strongly negative. It usually refers to the HIV antibody Western blot reflex test. Reasons include the presence of other infections like syphilis or diseases like diabetes. Usually requires retesting.
Negative
A negative test result indicates no sign of infection.
Non-reactive
A test result that is "non-reactive" is negative. This means this test showed no signs of infection.
Normal range
Sometimes called "reference range" or "reference interval". Test results can fall into a range of numbers that is considered "normal". If tests results are "out of range", more investigation is needed before making a diagnosis.
Phlebotomist
A phlebotomist (fleh-bot-o-mist) is a health professional trained to draw blood for laboratory tests.
Positive
A positive test result indicates signs of infection.
Reference range
Labs report results with a number and a reference range often keyed to your age and sex. A test result outside of a reference range may or may not indicate a problem. It only means that a doctor should investigate further.
Reflex tests
A reflex test is a second test that is performed on the same sample for confirmation of the result.
Screening
A screening test is a way to help identify disease early so it can be treated and managed. Or a screening test can rule out disease. The CDC recommends regular STD screening for all sexually active people.
Seroconversion
Seroconversion is the process of developing specific antibodies in the blood that fight infection. It takes time for people to develop enough antibodies for many STD tests to detect the condition. The length of the seroconversion period depends on the type of STD or other infections. With HIV, the seroconversion is usually between 1 and 3 months, although it can be as short as 2 weeks or as long as 6 months. The recommended test period for the detection of HIV antibodies is 3 months. During the seroconversion period, an infected person can still spread the disease.
Treatment
Some STDs can be treated with medication but cannot be cured. Treatment can be a way of managing a condition to prevent its spread or from it getting worse.