Rapid 20 minute STI test could soon be available on the NHS after watchdogs back it as gonorrhoea and syphilis diagnoses reach record highs
- New STI test back by NICE could be on the NHS amid concerns of high rates
An ultra-fast test for common sexually transmitted infections could soon be made available amid fresh concerns of the diseases skyrocketing.
The tool, either a vaginal swab or urine test, allows patients to get tested and treated on the same day, reducing the risk of infection spreading.
It uses sophisticated technology that can detect minuscule bacterial DNA within 20 minutes. Current NHS test results for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, in which samples are sent away for analysis, take up to ten days to return. However some private tests deliver results in two days.
The screening tool is backed by UK health watchdog The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which will accelerate its launch to market – expected within two years.
Figures published last week from the UK’s Health Security Agency showed gonorrhoea and syphilis diagnoses are at their highest since records began in 1918. Incidences of chlamydia – the most common STI – also increased by a quarter between 2021 and 2022 to nearly 200,000.
An ultra-fast test for common sexually transmitted infections could soon be made available amid fresh concerns of the diseases skyrocketing
Both are easy to treat with a course of antibiotics, if caught early. But they often go undetected because many patients experience either 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, professor of biotechnology at the University of Birmingham.
‘Half of those who go to clinics to get tested don’t come back because of embarrassment and miss out on treatment. It’s a real shame, given that these infections are very easy to treat.’
But the new test, developed at the university, aims to combat this problem. It works by adding a mixture of special enzymes to the sample that instantly multiplies the traces 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 saw in Covid – they require a specific environment to give an accurate result, for instance a certain ambient temperature,’ explains Prof Dafforn. ‘But the new technology is less high-maintenance and relies on a smaller portion of DNA for a result.’
The researchers say it will first be used in GP surgeries and pharmacies, but ultimately want it to be offered at 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 could have tests in the supermarket on a Sunday morning, when I imagine a few people might be wondering about the consequences of the night before.’