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At-home STD kits grow in popularity; may be good option for some

(Stock Photo)

– Every year about 20 million Americans are infected with a sexually transmitted disease.

But a challenge with diagnosing STDs is that people are often embarrassed to get tested. At-home testing kits are growing in popularity, but the health care community has split feelings as to whether the kits are safe and accurate.

There are a slew of startups selling STD kits, like myLAB Box, LetsGetChecked and EverlyWell.

Depending on what you want to get tested for, the kits are relatively affordable, costing as low as $100.

These over-the-counter tests can increase testing access to teenagers, those without insurance or people who want to avoid that sometimes awkward, embarrassing conversation with a health care provider.

“I think sexual health is important. Some people shy away talking about it, but it’s just a normal part of human life,” said Kim Toevs, with Multnomah County Public Health.

Toevs heads up the STD clinic for the county.

“More options for folks to check in with their sexual health to see if they have an infection, to get treated are better. And different folks need different options,” she said.

HIV tests have been around for years, but mail order tests for STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis are becoming more popular.

So how does it work?

A test kit is sent to your home with directions on how to perform the tests, which vary from swabs to urine samples and finger pricks.

Then you send the box back.

Most labs turn the samples around in a week or so and send you results confidentially.

Some of these companies provide treatment consultations and even prescription services.

“We have to make sure the quality of the test is good, that what happens with those results is appropriate, so I think there is a big opportunity, but we have a long way to go before it is perfected,” said Dr. Teresa Everson, with OHSU family medicine.

Everson likes the idea of these tests, but said a visit with a primary care doctor may be a better option.

“The kinds of tests that we recommend are based on your sexual practices and symptoms,” she said.

She said some tests are not needed or may not correctly test for the disease in the right place or using the right practice. Or worse, they could underdiagnose.

“Then the treatment that you think is good enough, may not be good enough,” Everson said.

Before you try these tests kits, the Federal Drug Administration recommends:

  • You use only tests regulated by the FDA;
  • Read the label and instructions carefully;
  • Keep good records of your testing;
  • When in doubt, contact your doctor;
  • And don’t change medications or dosages based on a home-use test without talking to your doctor.

Whether these test kits are right for you, low-cost or no-cost testing and consultation, including partner notification services, are available at most county public health departments.

“More options are better,” said Toevs. “I think that is good. People taking responsibility for sexual health, it’s really important.”

In 2016, Multnomah County Public Health, with the support of nonprofit Cascade AIDS Project, handed out home health STD kits to sex workers and the LGBTQ community as part of a pilot project.

It was successful, but was abandoned after funding ran out.

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