Exclusive - Unreliable home chlamydia tests put users at risk

Use of home tests for chlamydia could be leading patients to wrongly believe they are free from infection, the director of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme has warned.

Unreliable home chlamydia tests put users at risk
Unreliable home chlamydia tests put users at risk

Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in UK GUM clinics: according to Health Protection Agency data, 109,958 people were diagnosed in 2005.

The National Chlamydia Screening Programme for 16- to 24-year-olds was launched in England in April 2003.

But Dr Mary Macintosh, director of the programme, is concerned that, rather than be tested for chlamydia for free on the NHS, people are buying their own tests (see box).

Types of non-NAAT test available on the market:
  • Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays.
  • Direct fluorescent antibody tests.
  • Nucleic acid hybridisation tests.
  • Chlamydia cultures.

The nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) for chlamydia is acknowledged as giving the best rate of sensitivity and specificity.

Chlamydia tests that are not NAATs have a lower rate of specificity, increasing the risk of false-positive and negative results, Dr Macintosh told the British International Congress on Obstetrics and Gynaecology in London earlier this month.

'On the internet there are tests that aren't as accurate as NAATs,' she said. ‘They are also advertised in young persons' journals.'

'GPs should make their young patients aware that the tests they buy are not as good as those they can get for free,' she added.

Using the search engine Google, GP found 102,000 responses for ‘buy home chlamydia test'. Prices range from £7.99 to £33.99.

Dr William Ford-Young, Macclesfield GP and chairman of the RCGP sex, drugs and HIV working party, said this was a problem GPs needed to know about.

'My advice to GPs is that, unless they know it's the result of a reliable test through the NHS, I'd repeat the test,' he said.

The MHRA said manufacturers of home test kits in the UK must prove that they ‘perform as intended' to obtain approval.

North London GP Dr Richard Ma, a member of the National Chlamydia Screening Steering committee, was concerned that consumers would not understand that this meant that different tests worked to different standards.

'It's difficult to ascertain which of all the tests available on the market are reliable,' he said.
Dr Colm O'Mahony, a consultant in sexual health and member of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said: ‘The tests shouldn't be licensed or sold unless they use the latest technology.'


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