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At-home chlamydia screening aims to remove barriers, boost screening rates

Affecting more than 22,000 people in Minnesota, it’s the most common STD in the state

Sexually transmitted diseases (or STDs) are at an all-time high in Minnesota. Chlamydia continues to top the list.

Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics. The infection usually does not have any symptoms, though. That means many people can live with the infection for years, or pass it to a partner, if they aren’t tested.

While a chlamydia infection might not have symptoms, it can have a life-changing impact. This includes making it difficult or impossible for a woman to get pregnant.

Regular screening and counseling for STDs can help. That’s why a team at HealthPartners wants to make it easier for people to get tested for both chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Their idea

Right now, if someone needs a test for chlamydia or gonorrhea, they need to go into the doctor’s office.

The test itself is a simple swab. Some patients do the test by themselves at the clinic.

“We know that most patients prefer to do the test themselves. So we thought, what if they could do it from home? Why do they have to come into the clinic?” explained Nicole Khoury, PhD, MPH, laboratory scientific director for HealthPartners. She is leading the study.

Dr. Khoury continued, “We also see this as a way to improve the health of our community. We can reach people who would not have otherwise come into the clinics for care.”

What they’re doing

To get the answer, Dr. Khoury’s team is partnering with doctors throughout the HealthPartners and Park Nicollet care system.

“Our doctors are helping us find patients who might be interested in helping with this study,” said Dr. Khoury. “For example, if someone comes in and needs a test for chlamydia or gonorrhea, the doctor might ask if they’d also be interested in doing the at-home collection. The patient is given all the details about the study, and instructions and a swab kit for doing the test at home. They also do the test in the clinic, so we can compare the results.”

Dr. Khoury’s team is then able to determine if the results from the at-home tests match the results from tests done at a doctor’s office. They want to show that the results from the at-home tests are just as good as those done in a clinic.

“So far, all of the samples we’ve looked at have matched,” she said.

What’s next?

Once the team confirms that the at-home tests work, they hope to partner with virtuwell.com, the 24/7 online clinic by HealthPartners.

“Eventually, we want patients to be able to go online to virtuwell.com, or simply call their doctor to get an at-home test kit mailed out. They do the test at home, and mail the swabs back. It would be as easy as returning your shoes to Zappos,” she said.

The study is still underway. Dr. Khoury is hopeful that they will have the results they need to make at-home tests a reality within a year or two.

“We know there’s a stigma attached with a positive chlamydia test, or any STD test for that matter,” said Dr. Khoury. “We also know there are other barriers to getting tested, like transportation or cost. We’re hoping that if we can make it easier for patients to get tested, that they will.”

In the meantime, Dr. Khoury is adamant about raising awareness and reducing stigma. “If people think they have been exposed, get tested. Get the answer. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”

Patients or doctors who are interested in learning more about this specific study can reach out to Dr. Khoury for more details.

Study Director:

Nicole Khoury PhD, MPH
Laboratory Scientific and Accreditation Director
HealthPartners and Park Nicollet Medical Groups
8170 33rd Ave South, Mail Stop 23302K
Bloomington, MN 55425

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