General principles

Effective clinical management of patients who may have an STI/BBV

Elements of effective clinical management

The elements of effective clinical management are:

  • appropriate physical environment
  • confidential and culturally secure environment
  • good communication skills
  • good clinical history taking
  • screening
  • examination and collection of specimens
  • laboratory investigations
  • communication of results to patients
  • interpretation of results and formulation of diagnosis
  • treatment and education
  • directly observed single dose therapy as appropriate
  • contact tracing
  • long-term follow-up and education for prevention.

Essentials of patient care specific to STIs/BBVs

The essentials of patient care specific to STIs/HIV are:

  • education about safer sexual practices
  • individual rights and responsibilities
  • offering tests for HIV and other blood-borne viruses (BBVs)
  • investigating for other possible STIs
  • informing the person of and gaining consent for the:
    • investigations that may be required
    • need for contact tracing
    • confidentiality of the consultation
    • notification requirements for STIs/HIV.
  • negotiating the involvement of sexual partners in testing for STIs/BBVs
  • considering the need to advise parents, legal guardians or the appropriate authority if the patient is a minor or otherwise legally incompetent.
  • Consider need to discuss other relevant issues, e.g. contraception, fertility, mental health, alcohol and other drugs, social and occupational situation. 
The clinic environment

The clinic or location where patients are interviewed and examined should, as far as possible:

  • be as accessible as possible (consider disability issues)
  • be private and secure from interruptions
  • provide all the equipment necessary for an examination and for specimen taking (see Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests)
  • comply with accepted infection control guidelines1
  • meet the special gender and cultural needs of the local population through careful consideration of entrances and clinic identification.

Rationale: The clinic layout and appointment arrangement should not deter patients from presenting for initial or follow-up assessment. The clinic entrance and reception area should be private, so that patients do not feel that others can identify them as having presented for an STI consultation.

1Department of Health and Ageing 2004, Infection control guidelines for the prevention of transmission of infectious disease in the health care setting (external site), Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra.

Respect for patients special needs

In organising STI/HIV consultations, give priority to the patient's gender and cultural needs.

Respect the cultural needs of communities when scheduling clinics and examining patients.

Rationale: Denial of cultural needs may result in denial of patient access to STI/BBV services. Many people prefer to consult with a provider of the same gender, and this should be arranged whenever possible. Each health service will have different capabilities and resource limitations, which cannot be overcome by dictating standards. However, assistance should be sought from representatives of cultural groups to develop strategies to meet their special needs.

Special considerations

When providing STI/BBV health services to specific cultural groups, the assistance of accredited interpreters may be helpful during history taking, examination, specimen taking, counselling, prevention, education and contact tracing where appropriate.

History

Taking a sexual, psychosocial and drug history will indicate whether the patient is at risk of STIs/BBVs.;

See History and examination for more information.

Suggested range of tests

In general, test patients presenting for STI/BBV assessment for:

  • gonorrhoea
  • chlamydia
  • syphilis
  • HIV
  • hepatitis B
  • hepatitis A, if symptomatic or if there is a history of male-to-male and/or oro-anal sex and vaccination is contemplated if negative
  • hepatitis C, if there is history of injecting drug use.

Consider testing for other non-notifiable diseases, e.g. genital herpes, trichomoniasis.

Steps towards STI/BBV testing with informed consent

It is important for patients to be able to give informed consent prior to testing. A detailed sexual and drug history should be obtained. This will help to determine the level of information required by the patient. See History and examination.

Principles for community screening

Community screening is defined as mass STI/BBV screening of populations and is only considered in areas of high prevalence.

Any community screening program must meet the following requirements:

  • appropriate community representatives should be consulted and asked to endorse the program. They should be invited to help develop protocols for screening and be involved in implementing the screening program
  • resources must be adequate to manage detected cases and their contacts
  • an education strategy must form part of the screening program, addressing:
    • confidentiality of results (to state clearly how the privacy of the individual will be protected)
    • prevention, including safe sex behaviours.
  • screening protocols must contain accepted confidentiality guidelines to protect the privacy of the individuals and communities to be screened
  • all individuals must give full and informed consent before being screened
  • health service providers who deliver services to the community to be screened should be informed of the start of the program and the protocols to be used. The community will determine which providers should be informed and how this should occur
  • all information obtained via the screening program (particularly test results) is the property of that community. None of it should be used for research purposes, or publicised in any way, without the understanding and permission of the community.

* Originally developed by the Kimberley Public Health Reference Group and modified by consultation workshops held at Broome Aboriginal Medical Service and the Centre for Aboriginal Studies, Curtin University of Technology, 1996.

Prevention and education for STIs or HIV

Every STI/BBV consultation is an opportunity for preventive education.

It is important that this education is not judgemental, but some assessment of patient beliefs, sexual practices and culture is required for service providers to understand potential risks and how they might reduce those risks.

Discuss the following points with patients:

  • Abstinence while infected. It is particularly important that patients understand that they must not have sex while being treated, to reduce the risk of transmission of their STI. In the case of HIV infection, patients need to understand the need for lifelong safe sexual practices. They also need to be aware of the legal issues associated with knowingly putting another person at risk of HIV infection.
  • The advantages of a long-term, monogamous relationship in the prevention of an STI. Encourage patients to discuss their sexual behaviour with their partners and to communicate their sexual needs. It is important to emphasise the need for honesty in the relationship rather than to assume long-term fidelity.
  • Use of condoms and water-soluble lubricant. Check that patients know how to use condoms and where to get them. Discuss the issue of negotiating condom use, especially to encourage women to feel that they can raise the subject with their partners. For some women mentioning that female condoms are available might be appropriate.
  • Reducing the number of sexual partners. Obviously, the fewer the partners, the lower the risk. It is also important to explain that a series of monogamous relationships without condoms can be just as risky as numerous casual partners.
  • STI check-ups. Encourage patients to have STI check-ups, particularly before undertaking any new sexual relationship.
  • Other risk behaviours. Review these with the patient and discuss ways to reduce risks. For example, people who inject drugs need sterile injecting equipment and information about needle exchange programs.
  • Notification requirements. Explain that some STIs must be reported to health authorities, pointing out the advantages to public health and emphasising that patient confidentiality will be respected.
  • Other relevant issues, e.g. contraception, fertility, mental health, alcohol and other drugs, social and occupational situation. 
Child sexual abuse and STIs

Child sexual abuse is 'any act which exposes a child to, or involves a child in, sexual processes beyond his or her understanding or contrary to accepted community standards. The child is unable to provide informed consent to and is not developmentally prepared for sexual activity.'

For information on child abuse and neglect visit the Department for Child Protection website (external site). The importance of the definition lies in the acknowledgment of the limitations of children to give truly informed consent and their risk of exploitation.

Child sexual abuse is not acceptable in any group of people. It is not 'just a family matter', but many children are afraid to report an incident to the police because the abuser is often a family friend or relative. Other people who may have concerns about sexual abuse may hesitate to report it because they are not totally certain abuse is occurring. Tragic outcomes of child abuse may occur when reporting is delayed.

Most cases of child sexual abuse do not result in an STI. However, if an STI (such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, genital herpes or genital warts) is diagnosed from the genitalia, throat or other suspicious site of a child or an adolescent under the age of 18 years, then sexual abuse should be considered and a mandatory report of child sexual abuse should be submitted if a view is formed that sexual abuse may have occurred. In addition to the mandatory report, a report on an STI in a child under 14 years of age must also be made by the diagnosing clinician.

STIs occurring in babies, especially those under 12 months of age could be the result of vertical transmission, so the mother should be tested (and, if she tests positive, her sexual contacts should also be tested). Genital warts in children can also occur as a result of autoinoculation.

Management of a child with an STI
  • Treat the child for their infection and investigate for other STIs.
  • Always ensure a subsequent test of cure.
  • Remember there will be at least one other person, probably an adult, who is also infected and who requires contact tracing.
  • As a health care provider, you have a responsibility to assist in protecting children who may be victims of child sexual abuse. The occurrence of an STI in a child is strong, circumstantial evidence that abuse is occurring.
  • If you require advice about forensic examination please contact the Child Protection Unit at Princess Margaret Hospital on 9340 8646.

Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse has been introduced by amendments to the Children and Community Services Act 2004(the Act) (external site). From Thursday 1 January 2009, doctors, midwives, nurses, teachers and police officers ('reporters') are legally required to make a report in accordance with the Act when they have formed a reasonable belief that child sexual abuse has occurred or is occurring. The Act places the responsibility for making a report on the reporter. There is a clear duty for all health professionals to appropriately manage child abuse or neglect.

When to make a report

Reporters must make a report if they have formed a belief on reasonable grounds and in the course of their work, that a child:

  • has been the subject of sexual abuse that occurred on or after Thursday 1 January 2009
  • is the subject of ongoing sexual abuse.

Reports must be made to the Department for Child Protection, which is required under the Act to provide the Western Australia Police with a copy of the report.

Evidence of abuse is not required to make a report. Reporters should not conduct an investigation to establish if there is evidence, as this may jeopardise subsequent investigations by the Department for Child Protection or the Western Australia Police.

Reporters who fail to report a belief that a child is being sexually abused commit an offence and can be fined up to $6000 [s124B(1)].


It is very important to note that mandatory reporting of sexual abuse does not substitute for an STI report in a child under 14 years of age, or in a child aged 14 and up to 16 years of age if sexual abuse is reported and vice versa. If sexual abuse is suspected both reports must be submitted. If there is no abuse only the STI report in a child under 14 years of age is required.


For further information and contact

Please refer to the following documents:

Please contact the Department of Child Protection on 1800 708 704 regarding making a mandatory report.

STI or HIV counselling

Counselling is important in managing STIs/BBVs and should be considered at every contact with the patient.

As a minimum, consider counselling at the first presentation and subsequently during treatment and follow-up.

Rationale: Counselling is an opportunity to educate and support the patient in prevention strategies. The key points are:

  • building mutual trust and respect
  • communicating the confidentiality of the diagnosis, and the reasons for testing and contact tracing
  • formulating expectations from treatment
  • promoting awareness of risk behaviours.

Counselling should also include discussion of the implications of STI/HIV testing (e.g. testing does not prevent transmission). Emotional reactions can accompany a positive STI/HIV diagnosis, with delayed reactions sometimes occurring several days after the consultation.

General considerations

A pre-test discussion requires patient consent and should address:

  • confidentiality
  • the reason for the tests
  • risk activities
  • understanding of statutory notifications
  • awareness of the disease process
  • awareness of modes of transmission and prevention
  • awareness of window periods for the tests undertaken.

Counselling when delivering a negative diagnosis provides an opportunity to reinforce pre-test discussions and prevention education.

Counselling when delivering a positive diagnosis should address:

  • patient lifestyle and support systems, including those in whom the patient might confide
  • potential for a crisis (e.g. suicide).

If the diagnosis is positive, avoid overloading the patient with excessive information and arrange for further counselling at a later time. During the first and subsequent consultations:

  • stress the confidentiality of results and treatment
  • confirm the patient's understanding of the infection
  • if the patient is ready to deal with more information, provide further details of the infection and how to prevent transmission
  • continue to educate concerning risk behaviour
  • stress importance of contact tracing
  • undertake partner management with careful consideration of the risk of violence (for the client and/or partners) or seek assistance from public health practitioners
  • provide information about patient support organisations see contacts for specialist advice on STIs and HIV.
Follow up testing

Patients with gonorrhoea or chlamydia should be re-tested (including from oral and rectal sites where this is indicated) for these infections at the three month follow-up. 

Rationale: Patients who have had gonorrhoea and/or chlamydia are at risk of reinfection. 

Patients who have had negative test hepatitis B or C, HIV or syphilis results after presenting for STI/BBV assessment should return three months later to be tested again for:

  • hepatitis B and if there is history of injecting drug use, hepatitis C
  • HIV
  • syphilis.

Rationale: These infections have a 'window period' when the test may not be positive even though the patient is infected. Repeat testing provides an opportunity for further patient education, particularly for high-risk patient groups.

Remember to ask patients about any new symptoms or new risks when they present for follow-up testing.