The health department is piloting at-home STD testing for young adults

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Starting today, county residents between the ages of 18 and 24 can get free at-home tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia from the Allegheny County Health Department.

Residents ages 18-24 who would like to be tested for gonorrhea or chlamydia can go online to request a test mailed to their home. People then provide a sample, send it back to the lab, and later view their results online in the privacy of their own homes. The health department says it will contact anyone who tests positive for either infection to provide treatment options and resources.

“There are still many barriers to people seeking testing for sexually transmitted infections,” explains ACHD Clinical Services Associate Director Dr. Barbara Nightingale. “This home testing pilot program will help us increase access to testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea, as well as leave open the possibility of future expansion to include other sexually transmitted diseases.”

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are treatable with medications prescribed by a health care provider, the health department noted in a release, which also emphasized that early diagnosis can reduce personal discomfort as well as the spread of infection to others.

According to the release, the pilot testing will target young adults because young people in Allegheny County have higher rates of STDs than other age groups.

“In Allegheny County, chlamydia rates are highest among women ages 15-24. Gonorrhea rates are highest among men ages 20-29 and women ages 15-24,” said ACHD Medical Epidemiologist Dr. Kristen Mertz. “Testing is key to stopping the spread and thus reducing rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea. Women who are sexually active and under the age of 25, as well as all men who have sex with men, should be tested at least once a year.

The Department of Health reports that cases of these two common sexually transmitted infections are also on the rise overall. In 2021, according to the health department release, the county had 2,398 diagnosed cases of gonorrhea, a six percent increase from 2020, and 5,715 cases of chlamydia, a one percent increase from 2020.

The Department of Health says it will assess the impact of the program after 500 STD tests are completed, and Nightingale says she would like to see home tests for other common STDs in the future.

“Chlamydia and gonorrhea are not the only sexually transmitted infections on the rise or of concern to Allegheny County residents,” Nightingale said. “We are also seeing rising rates of syphilis and HIV. Once we analyze the data, I hope this will become a viable option for people interested in testing at home for other diseases, including HIV or syphilis.

The health department will partner with Color Health, which the publication calls “a complete healthcare delivery platform providing the technology, infrastructure and logistics needed to roll out large-scale health initiatives across diverse populations.”

Color Health will mail the tests, perform laboratory tests on samples and provide the results to residents, according to the release. The pilot will also include targeted digital marketing and a public outreach campaign to reach communities with the highest infection rates.

“At the Allegheny County Health Department, we are always looking for ways to meet our residents where they are when it comes to the services we offer,” said ACHD Director Dr. Debra Bogen. “I am excited that we are piloting this program and hope that it offers residents who may be hesitant or who have barriers to STD testing a better and more inclusive option.”

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