Researchers say they have evidence that more than one-third of young women are willing and able to use a free, easily available home test kit to privately and accurately learn if they are infected with Chlamydia trachomatis, a common sexually transmitted disease (STD). The kit, developed at John Hopkins, was most popular amongst women under 25, who ordered the kit via the Internet.
Researcher Charlotte Gaydos, of John Hopkins, said the home test kits provided young women with a safe and effective means for protecting their sexual reproductive health. "The Internet is how the current generation does business - from researching homework to shopping for clothes. Not surprisingly, they prefer using the Internet to also help take care of their health."
The findings were presented at the American Society for Microbiology general meeting and are believed to be the first to show that online access to self-sampling test kits for Chlamydia is an effective way to address the spread, detection and treatment of the disease. This age group also has the highest risk of contracting an STD and has historically been the least likely group to undergo regular testing. Results of a different survey by the same investigators, presented at the same meeting, warn that reinfection rates for Chlamydia were alarmingly high among middle and high-school students. "Teenagers and young adults are frequently left unaware for years that they have Chlamydia because symptoms may not appear for long periods after infection," said Gaydos. "Many of these hidden and untreated cases occur in women who lack health insurance and cannot afford to pay for tests or regular check-ups, the easiest way to detect this infection and prevent others from becoming exposed."
The free kits were made available to women in Maryland for a six-month period starting in August 2004. Kits could be ordered through a designated Internet site or could be picked up from any one of 250 participating pharmacies and recreation centers. Ninety-five percent of women who tested positive for Chlamydia sought treatment, which, according to Gaydos, is almost twice as high as the rate found among people seeking care in health clinics. The researchers suggest that easy access to testing may have been responsible for at least some of the improvement.
Home test kits are still available to people who live in Maryland, and the study remains open through to the end of 2005. The researchers have plans next year to expand their research and to develop a home test kit that also tests for trichomoniasis; human papillomavirus and HIV.
"The home test kit is important because it offers physicians and nurses another tool in efforts to reduce the spread of Chlamydia - both locally and nationally," concluded Gaydos.