testing times

New STI home-testing kit is set to hit the market & it’s good news for queer men especially

Two men cuddle in bed

As we’ve reported before, rates of gonorrhea have shot up in recent years. Queer men are among the worst-hit communities.

In 2021, US authorities reported over 700,000 cases of gonorrhea. This represents a 28% increase on five years previously. Almost a third of all cases were in gay and bisexual men.

Health authorities are taking novel steps to try and tackle this problem. On Wednesday, the FDA announced its approval of a gonorrhea and chlamydia home-testing kit.

People will soon be able to buy the Simple 2 Test at a pharmacy and take a specimen at home. They then send their sample to a designated laboratory for testing. The kit will reportedly cost $99 and a result will be sent in 2-5 days.

It’s the first time the FDA has approved a home-test kit for an STI besides HIV.

“This authorization marks an important public health milestone, giving patients more information about their health from the privacy of their own home,” said Dr Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health in a statement.

“We are eager to continue supporting greater consumer access to diagnostic tests, which helps further our goal of bringing more health care into the home.”

News of the home-test kit comes a few weeks after the CDC gave its stamp of approval to DoxyPEP. This entails taking a dose of antibiotics after sex to lower the chances of contracting gonorrhea. DoxyPEP was already being offered at a small number of clinics in San Francisco but will now be expanded elsewhere.

UK might soon offer gay men a vaccine to offer protection from gonorrhea

Like the US, the UK has also seen an increase in STIs, and gay men are again disproportionately affected. It’s so keen to tackle the problem that it might soon become the first country in the world to offer gay men vaccination for gonorrhea.

That said, there is no specific vaccine targeted at gonorrhea.

However, studies show the 4CMenB vaccine (Bexsero), used to prevent Meningitis B, also appears to offer some protection against gonorrhea. The two bacteria involved are similar.

Because of this, the UK’s Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommends Bexsero be offered to those most at risk of gonorrhea.

In this case, “most at risk” primarily means gay and bisexual men.

A study from Australia found that people who receive the 4CMenB are up to 34% less likely to acquire gonorrhea. It’s unknown exactly how long that protection lasts.

Although that’s not a high figure in terms of vaccine efficiency, the UK authorities clearly feel that even a 34% cut could help to curb the current soaring rates of transmission.

The UK operates its own state-run health service (the NHS). The researchers point to the cost-effectiveness of offering a semi-successful vaccine as opposed to only offering treatment.

“Introducing a vaccination program to prevent gonorrhea in England would be a world first and should significantly help to reduce levels of gonorrhea, which are currently at a record high,” said Professor Andrew Pollard, chair of the JCVI.

The report says offering the vaccine to those most at risk could avoid 110,000 cases of gonorrhea over 10 years.

If the UK health service follows the advice, other countries will be watching with interest to see how it impacts gonorrhea rates.

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