Are Over the Counter Home STD Testing Kits Safe?
Last fall, actor Charlie Sheen, known for his roles in “Two & a Half Men,” “Platoon,” and “Wall Street,” became known for something else: his positive HIV status. While critics attacked Sheen for what they imagined was a risky sex life rife with unprotected encounters, the actor admitted to only having unprotected sex twice in his life.
Though Sheen is a Hollywood celebrity, his announcement is a reminder that anyone who engages in unprotected sex is at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) like HIV, Herpes, Gonorrhea, and Chlamydia. According to the CDC, the cases of STDs are on the rise in this country, and at an alarming rate, with an estimated 20 million cases added each year. The United States has the highest STD infection rate in the entire industrialized world, and more than half of all Americans will have a sexually-transmitted disease at some point during their lives.
Charlie Sheen’s revelation is a reminder that there is an epidemic in this country that is the result of people not having the right information about STDs and not knowing their own status. This is why regular testing for STDs is critical.
While many individuals recognize they should be tested for STDs, most are embarrassed to go to their family doctor for fear of being judged; or, in the case of teenagers, for fear their parents will discover their sexual activity. This is why the popularity and market have grown for at-home STD testing kits.
How Do STD Home-Testing Kits Work?
Self-test diagnostic kits can be purchased over the counter (OTC) at most major pharmacies as well as online and used at home. Typically, these tests involve collecting a sample of urine, blood or feces. Some of the simpler kits will give results within minutes, usually by showing a change in color in a test material. Other kits may require the tester to send in their sample for more extensive laboratory testing. The results are then either sent to the customer or to their General Practitioner.
While home STD kits may help more individuals test their status, that does not mean these kits are 100% safe or reliable. There are some risks in removing control of health care testing from specialists. Moreover, tests performed on samples collected by an untrained individual may have a higher rate of false-positive results, meaning the results may indicate there is an STD present when there really isn’t.
Conversely, results may indicate an STD is not present when one is. To state it simply, at-home STD kits’ results cannot be guaranteed.
Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of OTC home STD testing kits:
This last con should not be overlooked. Healthcare specialists have been trained to explain testing results, and their implications, as well as answer any questions on the spot. Health care professionals also understand the significance of different test results, and know when retesting may be necessary.
In addition, a patient receiving shocking test results, such as a positive HIV/AIDS test, will more often than not need counseling. This support is lacking in the self-testing scenario.
Finally, at the time of this writing, only a couple of at-home STD kits were actually approved by the Federal Drug Administration, which leaves a plethora of kits on the market that has no approval, making using one of these even riskier.
Self-tests are unlikely to ever be as accurate as those done in a health care setting. Accuracy can easily be affected by how samples are collected, stored and handled. The accuracy may be affected by errors in how you collect the sample or problems due to the storage and handling of the sample if it is mailed back to the lab.
The bottom line is your health is too important to trust to a kit that may have been sitting on a shelf for over a year. The medical professionals at your local urgent care clinic are there to serve you, not judge you. When you use their services you know your results will be 100% accurate and confidential, and you will be provided counseling should you require it.