STDs are at a record high across the United States, according to the CDC. In 2016, more than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported in the U.S.
But now, several new companies and services are making it possible to test for STDs at home. These include myLabBox and Planned Parenthood’s PP Care and PP Direct. At home tests are now available for Herpes type-II, Syphilis, Chlamydia, Hepatitis C, Gonorrhea, Trichomoniasis, Mycoplasma genitalium, HPV and HIV (I & II).
Patients don’t have to visit a doctor to use them. Instead, users collect their own blood, urine, genital, or rectal samples, and send them off to a lab. Results are typically available online within a week.
But can you trust the tests? Health professions say yes, generally. For more information, we called Dr. Kelly Culwell, an OB-GYN and former medical officer at the World Health Organization, to find out. Here’s what she had to say.
What are the benefits of at home STD tests?
“For the most part, as long as they’re FDA approved, which they really have to be in order to be able to legally sell them in this country, I think that they’re great. There are a lot of tests that can be done very easily and don’t require an office visit. The CDC recommends yearly testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV, particularly in people under the age of 25, because the risk of having those infections is so high. I think they can really help increase the number of people who are getting tested.”
Which tests do they work well for?
“Certain tests like chlamydia and gonorrhea, HIV, even syphilis testing, those tests are great to be offered at home, because they can provide women and men with some degree of privacy if they don’t feel confident, or can’t get into the doctor’s office.”
Which tests do they not work as well for?
“One concern I have about home STD testing is that they offer these very large panels of tests that aren’t all necessary. For example, in the case of HPV, the human papillomavirus, there are two different kinds. There’s the kind that causes warts, and it doesn’t matter if you test positive on a blood test for that kind of HPV, because it just tells you that at some point you were exposed. But that’s not helpful and can make you worry for no reason. The other type of HPV, which is a high-risk HPV, can cause either precancerous changes in the cervix and cervical cancer. To my knowledge now, the only really good test for that actually requires a clinician exam. So I’m a bit worried that certain tests are out there without a lot of good guidance to woman about what they should do.”
Are there any other limitations?
“The other downside to these testing kits is that a lot of them don’t take insurance and so people are having to pay out of pocket, which can be pretty expensive. Whereas if they could get into the clinic, they could get the testing for a lot cheaper. But you’re paying for the convenience, so I think as long as people understand there are alternative ways to get tested that are cheaper, and they’re making an informed decision, then I think that’s fine.”
Can you trust the accuracy of the tests?
“You can trust them as long as they’re coming from a reputable source and they indicate on the website that they are using FDA approved testing methods. You need to follow the instructions, but really the whole idea about doing these tests at home is that they’re simple,” Culwell says. But, she adds, if you believe you are suffering from what could be a medical emergency you should see a doctor.