Will Teens Spit On Mobile Phones to Test for STIs?
Imagine that you're in a nightclub in the UK. You are thinking about hooking up with the hottie that you've been dancing with all night. However, you are concerned about whether the two of you might pass sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to one another. You go to a vending machine at the club, put in £1 and receive a small USB chip. You spit on the chip, insert it into your phone and it scans to see if you have any STIs. You have your new potential partner do the same. It turns out that you do have an STI. Not only do you now know that you shouldn't be hooking up with anyone at the club but you also get information about where you need to go next to deal with this serious problem.
This sounds like a farfetched tale but it could be the way of the near future if high-tech UK medical researchers have anything to say about it. A forum of doctors and technology experts called the UK Clinical Research Collaboration is working on creating small chip-based devices exactly like this that would be able to rapidly diagnose whether a person has any of a range of STIs. The patient applies their saliva or their urine on to the STI testing kit and then inserts it into their mobile phone (or computer) like a USB. Testing is done rapidly and privately.
It's true that there are plans to sell the kits in nightclubs, as well as supermarkets and other locations, for a low fee of £1 or less. It's a bit of a stretch to think that people will test their partners on demand like in the above scenario. However, the hope is that people who currently have STIs but are afraid to go to the doctor will be able to use the device to diagnose themselves so that they know if they need treatment.
There has been a frightening increase in the number of STI cases in the UK among teens and young adults who are contracting herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhoea in near record numbers. Many of these young people wait a long time before finally going in to a doctor for a diagnosis. They may be embarrassed or uncomfortable or think that the problem will go away. Left undiagnosed and untreated, this infections can lead to serious health problems down the line. If symptoms do go away, the individual may be unknowingly infecting additional partners and spreading the problem even further. Teens who may not want to go to a doctor may be willing to use an STI kit to test themselves if they believe they may have an infection. They will receive information about the steps that they need to take to treat the problem if they test positive using the kit.
This is only one of several new high-tech innovative projects like this. By using technology to address medical issues it is possible to encourage tech-savvy young people to take control of their own sexual health. Dr. Tariq Sadiq (who is heading the mobile phone STI testing project) is also the head of the Electronic Self-testing Instruments for Sexually Transmitted Infections consortium. This consortium, which includes medical professionals, technology professionals and NHS members, is working on multiple new technologies to improve STI testing among young adults.
Would you be interested in an STI testing kit on your mobile phone as an option instead of going to the doctor to get tested? Share your answer in the comments!