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What to Know About At-Home STD Tests

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 12, 2022

At-home STD tests offer convenience and privacy while testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). These diseases are also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you're sexually active and want to know if you're infected, STD testing at home can help. There are several infections transmitted sexually, and the test for each is different. Testing for STDs can get you timely treatment and help your partners. Home testing is available for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

At-Home STD Test — Advantages

If you're sexually active, testing for STDs is a part of safeguarding your health. Testing at home has many advantages:

  • Convenient: You needn't make a doctor's appointment or travel to a laboratory.
  • Accurate: These tests are as dependable as tests done at a laboratory.
  • Economical: The at-home tests are not more expensive than at a laboratory. Your insurance may cover some tests.
  • Confidential: No one needs to know that you're testing for STDs or your results.
  • Safe: Since you're doing the tests at home, you're not exposed to the risks of visiting a healthcare facility.

How Do At-Home STD Tests Work? 

Home tests for STDs are sold over the counter (OTC) or can be ordered by mail. The tests have instructions and all the material needed to collect a specimen. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) tests often need only a swab from your mouth and provide the result as soon as 20 minutes later. If the result is positive, you should have a confirmatory test at a laboratory.

In the US, chlamydia and gonorrhea are tested using nuclear acid amplification tests (NAAT). You collect the specimen at home and send it to the laboratory. They will notify you of the results by email or on their secure portal.

At-home tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea provide you with a swab to take a specimen from your vagina (women) or urethral opening (men). Men can also send a urine sample. The test kits provide instructions on collecting the specimen and sending it to the laboratory.

Tests for syphilis need a blood sample. The kits contain a sterile needle or lancet for a fingerprick. You clean your finger with an alcohol swab and prick it. Collect the drops of blood onto a card provided. You then send the card with dried blood to the laboratory. After processing your sample, they'll inform your results.

Problems With STD Testing at Home

At-home testing provides privacy, confidentiality, speed, and convenience. It also removes some barriers to access. But it has several shortcomings:

  • Follow-up: After the result, meeting your doctor and taking treatment is up to you. The test provider may or may not provide a telehealth consultation and prescription service.
  • Repeat testing: Needed to make sure the treatment has cured you completely. Germs like Neisseria gonorrheae (which causes gonorrhea) are now resistant to the usual antibiotics.
  • Partner notification: Testing your partners and treating them is vital. 
  • Counseling on risk reduction: Your doctor will advise you about safe sexual practices if you go to them for STD testing.
  • Improper use: You must use the tests precisely as described. Both false-positive and false-negative are risks with improper use. 
  • Data generation: Testing at home does not generate the disease data the government uses to allot resources.
  • High cost: Surprising but true. Your doctor will assess your sexual history and examine you before prescribing tests for the likely STD. On your own, you may order too many tests and spend a significant amount.

Are Home STD Testing Results Dependable? 

Yes, if properly collected and transported to the laboratory quickly. Home tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea are as reliable as laboratory-collected tests. The urine and vaginal swab specimens are stable at room temperature for several days. They can be mailed to the laboratory, and the results are dependable.

Home tests for HIV have been in use for some years, and their reliability is well-established. Some syphilis tests remain positive for years after you have taken treatment and been cured. If your syphilis test is positive, your doctor will assess you to find out if you have an active infection currently.

Which Types of STD Tests Do You Need?

Many infections spread through sexual contact. Frequent testing is advised for some:

Universal recommendation: Everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get tested at least once for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Sexually active women: If you're younger than 25, you should test for chlamydia and gonorrhea once a year. If you have a new partner, more than one partner, or a partner diagnosed with an STD, you should continue yearly testing beyond 25. 

Pregnant people: All pregnant people should test for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis, and HIV. These infections cross the placenta and infect the baby. Testing in early pregnancy can diagnose them, and your doctor will protect your baby by treating the infection. You should consider testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea, too. 

Men who have sex with men: You should test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and syphilis at least once a year. If you have more than one partner, you should test more frequently. If you're living with HIV, test for hepatitis C once a year, too.

People who share injection equipment: Test for HIV once a year. 

Dangers of Undiagnosed STDs

Many STDs have no symptoms or minimal ones. You may not realize you are infected, but the infection progresses and leads to significant problems:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Infertility, the inability to get pregnant
  • Pregnancy loss (miscarriage), preterm birth, and ectopic pregnancy
  • HIV infection (more common in people with another STD)
  • Nervous system disease
  • Heart disease
  • Death

Sexually transmitted infections are increasingly common. The US had 1.6 million cases of chlamydia infection, 677,769 cases of gonorrhea, and 133,945 cases of syphilis in 2020. There were more than 2,000 cases of congenital syphilis, a dangerous condition caused by infection of the baby in the womb. If you're sexually active, home testing for STDs can help you know about any infections and begin treatment.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
BMJ Global Health: "Self-collection of samples as an additional approach to deliver testing services for sexually transmitted infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2020," "Sexually Transmitted Infections Treatment Guidelines, 2021," "Which STD Tests Should I Get?"
Journal of Clinical Microbiology: "At-Home Specimen Self-Collection and Self-Testing for Sexually Transmitted Infection Screening Demand Accelerated by the COVID-19 Pandemic: a Review of Laboratory Implementation Issues."
Mhealth: "HIV self-testing and STI self-collection via mobile apps: experiences from two pilot randomized controlled trials of young men who have sex with men." 
Planned Parenthood: "At-home STI Testing."
PLoS ONE: "Self-Collected versus Clinician-Collected Sampling for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea Screening: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis." 

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