The thought of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) usually does not elicit laughs and giggles. In fact, many people are so terrified by the prospect of STD check ups that doctors think the prevalence of some diseases is grossly underestimated. Yet a recent study provides evidence that, for young people, at least, a person’s willingness to participate in sceening depends on the approach taken; make Chlamydia screening light-hearted and fun, and it will be just that. The research, by epidemiologists, bacteriologists, and health professionals at the National University of Ireland Galway, was recently published in BMC Infectious Diseases journal.
During ‘sexual health awareness and guidance’ (SHAG) week at an Irish university, organizers tried an unconventional approach to weeding out Chlamydia infection lurking in the student population. Rather than implore students to visit their family doctor for STD testing, researchers organized the catchy ‘pee-in-a-pot’ campaign offering on-site, self-administered screening. After hyping up the campaign with colorful flyers, emails, and radio announcements, student volunteers handed out free screening kits in public restrooms around the campus. The kits required a urine sample for anonymous screening and the results were discreetly texted to the participants’ cell phones without explicitly mentioning the C-word.
Of the 1,249 kits distributed, 592 were returned, two-thirds of them from female participants. The results revealed 21 infected students, representing five percent of the female participants and two percent of the males. This overall infection rate—about four percent—is similar to other European studies. Of the 21 positive results, 18 cases were successfully treated. The other three were not contactable because they provided fake cell phone numbers. This approach compares favorably to other studies using less savvy marketing techniques; for example, males—a group with typically low Chlamydia screening participation—comprised 35.5% of participants in the SHAG event whereas males represented only 18.9% in a traditional screening study in the UK.
Students interviewed following the event stressed the importance of anonymous “no fuss” and “handy” testing. The majority said they would not have participated had they been required to divulge their names due to the “embarrassment and shame” associated with STDs. With Chlamydia infection rates highest amongst 19- to 24-year-olds, the study’s results show the need to incorporate both anonymity and convenience when targeting young people. These tactics could greatly raise the rate of Chlamydia diagnosis, and thus also of treatment and prevention. Because Chlamydia displays no symptoms in approximately 70 percent of women and 50 percent of men, many cases most likely will not be treated unless campaigns such as this one bolster awareness and testing.
Interestingly, the researchers conclude that this approach can be applied in a wider variety of non-clinical settings. Just imagine the possibilities: pee-on-the-go for commuters, or pee-between-purchases for shoppers – all coming soon, perhaps, to your favorite public toilet.