Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are on the rise in the UK. The most common STDs are chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital warts, genital herpes and syphilis. HIV numbers are small in the UK, but late diagnosis is still a concern.
If left untreated, STDs can lead to more serious health problems including infertility, organ damage, blindness and cancer.
Sometimes, these STDs can show symptoms that include discharge from the genitals, painful urination, unusual vaginal bleeding, or blisters, sores and warts around the anus, penis, vagina or mouth.
That said, symptoms of STDs are experienced by all people, so it is vitally important you get tested regularly if you have had or are having unprotected sex, including oral sex or the sharing of sex toys.
Your GP or local GUM clinic can provide confidential advice and STD tests but, if you are initially uncomfortable about talking to a professional about your concerns, you can use a home test to check results first. If your home test shows that you do have an infection or sexually transmitted disease, you will need to visit your doctor or clinic for treatment.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted through unprotected sex or contact with genital fluids. Symptoms include a burning sensation when peeing, an increased need to urinate, blood in the urine, and pain in the tummy, pelvic area or testicles. It’s important to note that 70% of women don’t experience any symptoms at all.
It is the most common STD in the UK. In 2017 alone, over 1.3 million chlamydia tests were carried out in England. If left untreated, chlamydia can lead to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, pregnancy complications and reactive arthritis. However, if caught early, it can be successfully treated with a course of antibiotics.
A home test for Chlamydia should include a test device, vaginal swab, male urethral swab, extraction tube and reagent solutions. The test must include full instructions for use and should display the CE Quality Approval mark. Don’t use tests that have not been approved, as they may not be safe. The results will show a positive or negative within 10 minutes.
Reports of syphilis have steadily increased by 20% in the UK. Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is spread when one person comes into close contact with an infected sore on another person.
Symptoms for syphilis include painful sores around the penis, vagina, anus or mouth, a red rash on the hands and feet, small skin growths around the genitals similar to small warts. You may also experience tiredness, aches, fever and swollen glands.
However, not everyone gets symptoms and they can disappear even though the infection is still present.
The long-term effects of syphilis can be serious if left untreated, causing damage to other organs including the heart, eyes, nerves, liver, brain and bones. Testing is however straightforward and fast, and syphilis can be treated with antibiotics.
A home test for syphilis includes a test device, pipette, capillary tube, lancet, buffer solution and alcohol wipe with full instructions on how to use the kit. Results appear in minutes with a clear positive or negative indication. Again, it is important to buy safe and look for the CE mark.
Also known as the ‘clap’, gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae that can be shared through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex.
There has been a 22% increase in reported cases of gonorrhoea in the UK and there is now concern that some strains are developing resistance to antibiotics. It is therefore important to get tested and treated early.
Symptoms include a think green or yellow discharge from the genitals, and pain when urinating, although 10% of men and 50% of women don’t experience any symptoms at all.
If left untreated, gonorrhoea can spread into the fallopian tubes and uterus causing pelvic inflammatory disease, which can result in pregnancy complications and infertility.
There are tests available for gonorrhoea. Kits typically include a test device, which will show a positive or negative result in 10 minutes. A vaginal swab or male urethral swab, extraction tube and full instructions should also be included in the kit. As with all STD home tests, ensure the kit comes with a CE approved mark.
It may surprise you to know that you can also test for HIV at home. HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus that damages cells in the immune system leaving it vulnerable to AIDS. If HIV is detected early, most people will not develop AIDS infections. Early testing and diagnosis also reduce the risk of passing the virus onto others.
According to the National Aids Trust (NAT), 1 in 14 people living with HIV do now know they have it. However, 93% of people with HIV in the UK are diagnosed and do know they have it – and most of those are receiving treatment to suppress the virus.
Flu-like symptoms typically appear 2-6 weeks after the HIV infection and then disappear, however the virus continues to attack the immune system.
Home tests for HIV give instant results and are easy to use. The INSTI HIV Self Test, for example, is over 99% accurate and produces results in just 60 seconds. It can also detect the virus up to two weeks earlier than other brands. It is one of the few HIV tests that is CE approved and is very easy to use. It uses a finger-prick of blood to detect HIV antibodies. Full instructions for use are included.
These home health tests can provide a good first step for STD testing, but they are no substitute for the advice available at a GUM clinic or from your GP. If you are concerned about symptoms or you need to know more about treatment, you should seek the advice of a medical professional.
You can read more about STDs and home tests here: Home tests for Sexual Health.
You can find out more information about STDs and STD home tests from the NHS here.