Researchers have raised concerns about online sexually transmitted infection test services in the UK, warning that many do not meet national standards.
The tests, which have become increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, involve the user ordering a kit and either self-sampling and posting the specimen for lab analysis, or self-testing and interpreting the results themselves.
The research, which is published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, said: “The proliferation of providers that do not follow guidelines, in particular for-profit sites, jeopardises these advantages and puts users at risk.
“If current trends continue, online testing usage will increase, resulting in more online providers as demand rises.
“Regulatory change is required to ensure that the standard of care received online meets national guidelines to protect patients and the wider population from the repercussions of under-performing or inappropriate tests.
“If we do not act now, patients will continue to receive suboptimal care with potentially significant adverse personal, clinical and public health implications.”
Researchers looked at 13 self-test kits and 18 self-sample kits found on Amazon and Google in June 2020.
All 13 self-test providers and 13 of the self-sampling providers were privately run, while all but one of the self-sample providers were from the UK.
The research found there was often no health information given, inappropriate infections were tested for, incorrect specimen types were used, and there was little advice on what to do after a diagnosis.
Eleven self-test providers had at least one of their tests CE-marked – meaning that the product meets European health, safety and environmental protection standards.
Two claimed World Health Organisation approval and one claimed US Food and Drug Administration accreditation.
One self-test provider marked its chlamydia and gonorrhoea tests with an NHS logo, describing itself as a provider, although researchers said this was unclear.
Meanwhile, a new study suggests that an existing meningitis vaccine could be used to protect against gonorrhoea as global cases rise.
More than 80 million new cases of the infection were recorded worldwide in 2020, thought to be because there is no proven vaccine and treatments are becoming less effective.
But three new studies suggest the 4CMenB meningitis vaccine may offer significant protection.
One of the studies in South Australia indicates two doses of the vaccine is 33% effective against gonorrhoea in adolescents and young adults.
A second study – done using the health records of 16 to 23 year olds in the US between 2016 and 2018 suggests two doses of the same vaccine provides 40% protection against gonorrhoea.
The third study, done by Imperial College London, found that vaccinating men who have sex with men at highest risk could prevent an estimated 110,000 cases and save £8m over 10 years.
The three linked papers are published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.