Abstract

Background: Kits for self-sampling and home-testing for STI are increasingly available online. Some are from healthcare providers, others from manufacturers or distributers often overseas. Other studies have questioned the validity of some of these tests; it is also essential that information and advice provided with these tests is appropriate.

Aim: To map the online availability and quality of information for STI self-test kits.

Methods: A systematic internet search carried out in 2011; on-line information and health advice were evaluated. A sample of tests was purchased and instructions assessed against quality criteria.

Results: 92 websites were identified selling 221 products; 85 included tests for Chlamydia (57 home sampling and 28 home testing). Thirty one sold HIV test-kits, 27 for home testing. Some offered test “bundles” for multiple infections; four that offered home tests for Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HSV. The quality of online information varied; 89 described tests accurately; few (15% of chlamydia tests) stated whether had regulatory approval, only 13 gave advice on seeking other tests. None of the websites selling HIV tests counselled people to seek post-exposure prophylaxis. Instructions were evaluated from 20 purchased kits: 8 had clear instructions. Others were not designed for home use; one recommended use of full laboratory clothing protection, another required a centrifuge. Eleven gave suitable advice on positive and 9 on negative results. Few included appropriate advice on re-testing. No test included completely appropriate information, only one set of instructions met suggested standards.

Conclusion: The number of STI tests available on the internet is increasing, yet the quality of information and appropriateness of tests is varied. Regulation is required to ensure appropriate standards for online tests,