18 Aug Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) – Should I test at home or at a clinic?
There’s a lot of confusion around accessing STI testing, especially since COVID made it just that bit more difficult to access services.
Sexually transmitted infections, also known as STI’s, are more common than you’d think. Just as we look after the rest of our bodily health, we need to look after our sexual health. STI’s are basically any kind of bacterial or viral infection that can be passed on through unprotected sexual contact. Anyone can get an STI, but don’t panic, most infections are easily treated and testing is free and confidential. – Sexual Health & Wellbeing Brook
If STI’s are left untreated, and you have unprotected sex, there is a high possibility that you will spread the infection to your sexual partners, as well as some leading to further health complications. So it’s important to know how to access STI testing!
Before you test, it’s important to understand the testing ‘window period’ for different infections. If you get a test too soon after risk of exposure, it may not provide an accurate result and you may be recommended to test again at a later date.
The window period for chlamydia and gonorrhoea is usually 2 weeks after contact, with the ability to test earlier for gonorrhoea if symptoms appear. For syphillis, the window period can be up to 3 months but it is advised to seek medical advice as soon as any symptoms may appear, or you have been a known contact of syphillis. For HIV, it can take up to 12 weeks to appear in testing.
Why you might test at home
If you’ve had unprotected sex and are symptomless, it might make sense to take a home STI test. These kits are delivered straight to your door in a plain package, providing all the instructions and equipment you need to test yourself for STIs. You then send this back to the clinic via a pre-paid label. It’s free, easy and discreet!
The kits require either a urine pot or vaginal swab sample (to test for chlamydia/gonorrhoea), along with a finger-prick blood sample (to test for HIV/syphillis). Kits may also include additional swabs to test for any oral and rectal infections, if you have indicated you are at risk within the at-home test online consultation.
One potential problem with home STI tests is that if you struggle with blood test, then this might be an issue for you. But if you can’t take your own blood, you can still send in the other tests that you can manage and these will still be tested for you.
Accessing an at-home test
You can access free at-home testing by registering at SHL London a free NHS online sexual health service. Once registered, you have to complete a short, online consultation to confirm that an at-home test is the best route for you.
You will get your results after 48-72 hours of being received at the lab. You’ll then be sent a text or email (depending on preferences chosen in the online consultation) informing that your results are ready. To view these, you simply need to log into your account created on SHL.UK. If any further treatment or testing is needed, you will be contacted by helpful clinical team to sort everything out for you.
Why you might want to visit a Sexual Health clinic
If you are experiencing symptoms or have had sexual relations with someone that you know has an STI, it might be the best option to visit a Sexual Health clinic. This means that a qualified nurse or doctor can support your testing and treatment confidentially. Normally this testing has a quicker turnaround than at home testing and you can expect to receive your results any time from the same day of testing to a week or 2.
Clinic staff will explain everything to you without judgement and make you feel at ease. Not only this, but if you have any worries about any symptoms on or around your genitals, they can examine you to reassure you and provide answers.
Another reason you might want to visit a clinic is if you struggle to take your own blood using the at-home finger-prick blood test. Instead of having to go through the potential struggle of taking your own blood, the nurses within the clinic will do so for you.
Accessing a Sexual Health clinic
NHS has a directory of all the closest Sexual Health clinics within your area. It gives you information on their opening times, phone number, website and how to make appointments.
Some of the local clinic telephone numbers:
•Camberwell Sexual Health Centre – 020 3299 5005
•Streatham Hill Clinic – 020 7188 7707
•Waldron health Centre- 02030493500
•Trafalgar Clinic- 02088366969\
•Burrell Street Clinic – 020 7188 6666
•Walworth Road Clinic – 020 7188 7707
For further London sexual health clinics, please go to https://www.shl.uk/clinics.