STI home testing kits
Getting yourself checked out for STIs is always a good move. But is home testing a good or a bad idea? We explore the methods, costs, and risk factors.
While most young people know that a visit to their doctor (GP) or local GUM clinic is the recommended option for receiving free, reliable and confidential diagnosis and advice, more of us are choosing home kits to test. A quick Google search reveals hundreds of different kits to use at home, which can be confusing. So what's the appeal of home testing?
According to Dr Gemma Newman, this is down to a number of reasons: "Some people feel embarrassed about discussing their sex lives in front of people," she says. "Others worry they may be judged by the doctor. Some have concerns that people may find out they went to family planning clinic, and others are worried about what is involved.
"Some just find it inconvenient to miss work or college! Doctors who deal with sexual health are trained to take a non-judgmental approach and offer tests depending on what you need, and what you want. Family planning clinics not only offer friendly, free services but also any care and advice you may need. Imagine how worried you might feel if you found out you had an STI and had no one to talk to about it."
How do they work?
There are home tests on the market for:
- Chlamydia - tested using a urine sample or a swab from the cervix;
- Gonorrhoea - tested using a genital swab;
- Genital herpes - the best method of diagnosis is with a swab, which is taken from a sore.
It was a simple swab test - I sent it off and had to wait seven days. It came back negative, which was a relief. The experience reassured and encouraged me to make an appointment for a full check, including HIV testing, at a family planning clinic.
Any home test relies on reading the instructions extremely carefully and a visit to the clinic is always the better option. Some home tests involving urine testing might not be worth your while as a negative result will not rule out infection. Syphilis testing can only be done with a blood test looking or antibodies (indicating past or present infection) or, more accurately, by taking a swab from a syphillis sore. Hepatitis B and C cannot be diagnosed without at least one positive blood test.
How much do they cost?
Tests vary from about £25 to £300, but if you're set on taking a test at home, several local health authorities in England are offering chlamydia tests for free. This is what Leigh, 17, did when she wanted to test herself for chlamydia and got a free test.
"I kept hearing how chlamydia didn't always have any symptoms so it was preying on my mind as knew I'd made a few dodgy mistakes with unprotected sex in the past," she says. "It was a simple swab test - I sent it off and had to wait seven days. It came back negative, which was a relief. The experience reassured and encouraged me to make an appointment for a full check, including HIV testing, at a family planning clinic."
Reliability of home tests
If you do decide to go ahead with an home kit, how do you pick a reliable one? Dr Newman recommends buying from UK-based companies that are connected to a sexual health clinic, so they can advise you who to go to if you need any help.
"Many teenagers have used home testing for STIs successfully, and have been pleased with it as a way of checking themselves for chlamydia, amongst other infections," she says. "Others have found it more difficult, or have been unsure how to get treatment if they do have an infection.
"I'd always suggest going to a clinic if you can, as the doctor will then help you know which tests are best for you depending on your circumstances. If you prefer to see a man or woman specifically, most clinics can accommodate this. If you feel that home testing is the only way you would ever get checked, then it is definitely better than doing nothing."
Written by Elizabeth Nicholls
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