Rapid 20-minute STI test could soon be available on the NHS after watchdogs back it up as gonorrhea and syphilis diagnoses hit record highs
- New STI test back by NICE could be on the NHS amid concerns over high rates
An ultra-rapid test for common sexually transmitted diseases could soon become available amid new concerns about the skyrocketing diseases.
The tool, a vaginal swab or urine test, allows patients to be tested and treated on the same day, reducing the risk of infection spreading.
It uses advanced technology that can detect tiny bacterial DNA within 20 minutes. It can take up to 10 days for current NHS test results for chlamydia and gonorrhea, with samples sent off for analysis, to be returned. However, some private tests provide results within two days.
The screening tool is backed by UK health watchdog The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which will accelerate its market introduction – expected within two years.
Figures published last week by the UK Health Security Agency show that gonorrhea and syphilis diagnoses are the highest since records began in 1918. The incidence of chlamydia – the most common STI – has also fallen by a quarter between 2021 and 2022 increased to nearly 200,000.
An ultra-rapid test for common sexually transmitted diseases could soon become available amid new concerns about the skyrocketing diseases
Both are easily treated with a course of antibiotics, if caught early. But they often go unnoticed because many patients experience mild or no symptoms. If left untreated, both can cause infertility and severe pelvic pain. “The biggest challenge is getting patients to come back to the clinic for their results,” says Tim Dafforn, a professor of biotechnology at the University of Birmingham.
“Half of those who go to the clinic to get tested do not return out of embarrassment and miss treatment. A shame, because these infections can be treated very well.’
But the new test, developed at the university, should counter this problem. It works by adding a mixture of special enzymes to the sample that instantly multiplies the spores of bacterial DNA, making it easier to spot.
This technique also allows clinicians to identify both infections from a single sample.
‘The traditional tests work like the PCR tests we’ve seen in Covid – they require a specific environment to give an accurate result, for example a certain ambient temperature,’ explains Prof Dafforn. ‘But the new technology requires less maintenance and depends on a smaller part of the DNA for a result.’
The researchers say it will first be used in GP surgeries and pharmacies, but eventually it should be offered in community hotspots.
“You have to go to the potential patients, rather than waiting for them to come to you,” adds Prof. Dafforn. “For example, you can have tests in the supermarket on a Sunday morning, while I can imagine a few people wondering about the consequences of the night before.”