At-Home STD Testing
Many reasons exist as to why an individual might want to be tested for a sexually transmitted disease (STD), from an unprotected sexual encounter to a set of worrying symptoms. Unfortunately, many sexually active young people feel embarrassed talking about sexually transmitted diseases or asking their doctor for a test. Because some STDs are asymptomatic, especially at the beginning, and can cause permanent damage if left untreated, it's critical to find out if you have an infection. At-home STD tests provide a convenient, reliable way to learn if you have an STD so you can begin treatment.
- 1 There are two types of at-home STD Tests: rapid results kits that give you results immediately or mail in kits that are sent to a lab for analyzing results.
- 2 At-home STD tests are easy to take and depending on the type of STD you’re testing for require only a urine, saliva, or blood sample.
- 3 Regardless of how you test for STDs, anyone who receives a positive result needs to schedule an appointment with a physician.
- 4 At-home STD testing kits are generally available at local pharmacies or can be purchased online.
Published January 27, 2020
By Jane Anderson
This guide discusses at-home STD tests, including for which STDs these tests screen and how specimens are collected. There is also a side-by-side comparison of at-home testing vs. testing at your doctor’s office/health clinic and a discussion on the confidentiality of testing results.
Which Infections Can Be Tested for Using an At-Home STD Test?
You can use at-home STD tests to screen for the most common STDs. Some kits, such as those with 10-panel or 4-panel labels, check for multiple infectious organisms at one time, while others test for a single disease. Frequently tested STDs include:
- Genital herpes
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
How At-Home STD Test Kits Work
All test kits provide a way to collect an uncontaminated sample of bodily fluid. This sample is then either tested immediately at home, which is called a rapid test kit, or mailed to a laboratory. Mail-in test kits provide access to an online account where you can view results and often consult with health care professionals.
The type of sample collected varies according to the type of STD being tested and the kit manufacturer, and preparation is minimal. Panel kits that test for several STDs may need more than one type of specimen. Most STD test kits will use one or more of the following collection techniques.
If a urine sample is required, the tester may need to void urine into a container. It’s important to follow the exact instructions to provide the right kind of specimen. One example is the clean-catch method. In this instance, the person should first void a small amount of urine into the toilet, stop, place the collection container underneath his or her genitalia, and then continue urinating into the container. Other tests, especially those for chlamydia, may require first-catch urine specimens, which collect the very first drops from the urine stream. Some test kits will ask you to transfer the urine sample from the collection container to a small tube, sealing it for transport.
Urine screening is commonly used for chlamydia and gonorrhea and is also sometimes used for trichomoniasis. It’s a reliable testing procedure for persons engaging in vaginal intercourse, but this method doesn’t detect infections in the throat or anus.
Swab tests are very useful for individuals who have open sores (active herpes) or suspected STD infections in the throat or rectal area. They’re also commonly used for HIV saliva testing.
Test kits that include swabs may require the user to move or rotate the swab against the walls of the urethra, vagina, throat, cheek, or anal canal depending on the area infected. Swabs can also gently gather material from open sores or lesions. Once the specimens are collected, the swab is usually placed in a sealed container for transport.
Rapid or instant test kits may have the user obtain a swab sample and then place it in a test cartridge, or the swab itself may react to the presence of antibodies, displaying results in a window, similar to a pregnancy test stick.
HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B and C, and active genital herpes can all be tested with a simple blood test. At-home tests use a finger prick for ease of collection purposes. Users wipe their finger clean with an alcohol swab then prick the finger using a small lancet. The blood is then placed on a small specimen square per the test kit instructions for storing and packaging.
A test kit will include a prepackaged mailing label and shipping box. After the specimen is collected, simply pack everything as directed and drop it off in the nearest mailbox. Most mail-in test kits provide online results within two to 14 days after the manufacturer receives the specimen. Remember to factor in shipping time.
Testing for an STD at Home
Test Kit Availability
At-home STD test kits can be picked up at some local stores, especially those with pharmacies, or ordered online. Always check that your test kit is FDA-approved and that you are purchasing from a reputable source. Also, make sure your state doesn’t have a prohibition against the mailing of laboratory specimens for testing. Test kits usually arrive discreetly packaged, and most require you to create an online account to receive your results.
Single or Multi-Panel STD Test Kits
You may want to weigh the benefits of testing for multiple STDs in one test kit vs. buying a single test kit. If you’re concerned about exposure to one particular STD, either because you’ve been notified by your partner or are showing symptoms, a single test kit may be all that you need. For persons who are interested in annual screening for various STDs or who have engaged in risky sexual behavior, including unprotected sex with multiple partners, a multi-panel test kit may provide more value.
Confidential vs. Anonymous
Rapid at-home test kits are by nature completely anonymous unless you voluntarily tell others of your results. Test kits that require you to send in samples for laboratory analysis will keep your results confidential (from insurance companies, employers, and other healthcare providers), but they’re required by law to report positive results for certain STDs to state health departments.
Many test kit companies also have online doctors with whom you can discuss positive results and receive prescriptions for medication. However, each state has laws that govern online prescribing. It’s also important to share your results with your primary health care provider and follow up for ongoing care.
Are There Other STD Testing Options?
At-home test kits are convenient and private, but there are many advantages to screening at a health clinic or your regular health care provider.
|At-Home||Health Clinic||Primary Care Provider|
|On your own time||Find time to visit||Make an appointment|
|Pay up-front when you purchase the test kit||Many health departments offer free STD testing||Some insurances may cover STD testing|
|Reliable results depend on following instructions correctly||Professionals collect samples and package them for testing||Professionals collect samples and package them for testing|
|Positive results may require a follow-up with your doctor||Doctors are on hand to prescribe and counsel||Doctors are on hand to prescribe and counsel|
What if I have a positive test result?
If your test results are positive, you need to seek medical care. Depending upon the STD in question, you may need a prescription and/or counseling to help manage your condition. You should also notify any sexual partners of your positive results.
Who will know about my positive test result?
There are limits to confidentiality, especially in regards to HIV. To stop the spread of epidemics, the CDC needs to know which areas of the country have the largest population of infected persons. Additionally, there is a “duty to warn” if someone is unknowingly being exposed to HIV by another person. You can even be charged with a crime in some states if you don’t tell your sexual partner about your positive status.
How often should I be tested?
Your testing frequency will depend upon your sexual practices. Are you in a monogamous relationship? Do you frequently have unprotected sex with multiple partners? Most sexually active men and women should be tested yearly, and those who engage in risky sexual behavior should be tested as often as every three to six months.
Are test kits difficult to use?
Test kits have easy to follow instructions and pictures, and all items are neatly labeled. Some companies have videos on their website that walk you through the process from start to finish. If you experience difficulty, the test kit manufacturer usually provides an online chat box or telephone number.
Does my partner also have to be tested?
Some doctors and clinics provide Expedited Partner Therapy. If you’ve tested positive for an STD and require medication, they may provide the medication to your partner as well to prevent spreading the infection.
- Sources [-]
https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007487.htm. Accessed November 2019.
http://www.wardelab.com/25-1-2.html. Accessed November 2019.
https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/vitro-diagnostics/home-use-tests. Accessed November 2019.
https://gettested.cdc.gov/. Accessed November 2019.
https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/living-well-with-hiv/your-legal-rights/limits-on-confidentiality. Accessed November 2019.
https://www.cdc.gov/std/products/infographics/images/EPT-Infographic-508_2016.10.06.pdf. Accessed November 2019.