Screening teens and young adults for sexually transmitted infections may best be achieved by making free, confidential home-kit testing available over the Internet, a new Johns Hopkins research has found.
The team has described the success of the program started in Baltimore in 2004 that lets men and women in their 20s or teens order home-testing kits for the most common STIs over the Internet at www.iwantthekit.org.
They designed the website to track new and recurrent infections by providing private, confidential testing for Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Trichomonas vaginalis.
"Our results are repeatedly showing us that we have to go online if we want young people to be screened for sexually transmitted infections, especially young people in harder-to-reach, urban-poor minority groups," said infectious disease specialist Charlotte Gaydos, senior study investigator.
"The Internet is by far the most popular means of getting tested among this sexually active group, and at a time when they are most at risk of becoming infected," she said.
Each home test kit comes with instructions, a unique identification number, and a prepaid return envelope to return self-collected vaginal, penile or rectal swabs in specially sealed test tubes to Gaydos' lab at Johns Hopkins.
The kits are mailed in plain, brown paper envelopes and contain a detailed questionnaire that allows researchers to gather important information about who used the kit and why.
Within two weeks of sending the test to the lab, people can call a toll-free number, provide their identification number and a secret password chosen when they ordered, and get their test results.
"Using the Web is a very safe, private, secure and practical forum for young people to deal with sexually transmitted infections. People can order a kit any time of day, without having to leave school or work, and can get tested with a level of anonymity that minimizes any fear of stigma or self-conscious feelings that may come with talking to a parent, school counselor or health professional about a sex-related health problem," she said.
Overall, Gaydos said the program is also highly effective in promoting retesting, noting that 17 percent of users feel comfortable enough with the system to use it again and almost half of these people have been screened multiple times, even if they test negative at first.
The findings have been reported in the February issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases.