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 18-24 who would like to be tested for gonorrhea or chlamydia can go online to request a test be mailed to their home. Individuals then provide a sample, mail it back to the lab, and later review their results online in the privacy of their own homes. The health department says it will reach out to all who test positive for either infection to provide treatment options and resources.
“Many barriers still exist for people seeking testing for sexually-transmitted infections,” explains ACHD Clinical Services Deputy Director Dr. Barbara Nightingale. “This at-home pilot testing program will help us increase accessibility to testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea, as well as leave open the possibility for expansion in the future to include other STDs.”
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are treatable with medication prescribed by a health care provider, the health department notes in a release, which also emphasizes early diagnosis can reduce personal discomfort as well as the spread of infection to others.
According to the release, the testing pilot will target young adults, because young people in Allegheny County have higher STD rates than other age groups.
“In Allegheny County, chlamydia rates are highest among females 15-24 years of age. Incidence of gonorrhea is highest among males 20-29 years and females 15-24 years,” says ACHD medical epidemiologist Dr. Kristen Mertz. “Testing is key to stopping the spread and thus reducing the rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea. Women who are sexually active and under 25 years of age and all men who have sex with men should be screened at least annually.”
The health department reports that cases of these two common sexually transmitted infections are also up, in general. 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 health department says it will assess the program’s impact after 500 STD tests have been completed, and Nightingale says in the future she’d like to see at-home testing for other common STDs, as well.
“Chlamydia and gonorrhea are not the only sexually transmitted infections that are increasing or of concern to Allegheny County residents,” says Nightingale. “We are seeing increasing rates of syphilis and HIV, as well. After we analyze the data, I hope that this becomes a viable option for people interested in being tested at-home for other diseases, including HIV or syphilis.”
The health department will partner with Color Health, which the release calls a “complete platform for health care delivery, providing the technology, infrastructure, and logistics required to distribute large-scale health initiatives to diverse populations.”
Color Health will mail the tests, perform lab testing on specimens, and provide results to residents, according to the release. The pilot will also include focused digital marketing and a public outreach campaign to reach communities with the highest rates of infections.
“At the Allegheny County Health Department, we are always looking for ways to meet our residents where they are when it comes to our service offerings,” states 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 testing for sexually transmitted infections a better, more inclusive option.”