Experts say patients can get results before they leave the doctor’s office, allowing them to start treatments earlier.
A test for the common sexually transmitted disease chlamydia reportedly delivers quick and accurate results — fast enough that someone can be told whether they have the disease while still in the doctor’s office.
The prompt turnaround could shorten the time between diagnosis and treatment and, researchers say, limit transmission of the disease.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Researchers studied the effectiveness of the Atlas Genetics rapid test for chlamydia, comparing it to a standard test called Aptima Combo 2 .
Women ages 14 and older who were undergoing screening for the disease at a teen health center and an STD clinic were recruited for the study.
Participants were given both the standard and rapid tests. They also completed a questionnaire about their attitudes toward point-of-care testing for chlamydia.
The study found that the Atlas test was nearly as accurate as the standard test.
Seventy percent of study participants said they would prefer to take the point-of-care test — which involves a vaginal self-swab — if it was available.
“It was promising to see how well-received the test was among patients,” said Tiffani Bailey Lash, PhD, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which provided funding for the study. “I think the world has been waiting for a point-of-care STD test.”
Moreover, 61 percent of women said they would wait up to 20 minutes for test results if it meant getting treatment before they left the clinic. Another 26 percent said they would wait up to 40 minutes to get their results.
“Most current [chlamydia] tests have a prolonged turnaround time, leading to results reported hours or days after the patient has left the healthcare visit,” wrote the researchers, who were led by Charlotte Gaydos, Dr. PH, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for the Development of Point-of-Care Tests for STDs.
“These delays can impact clinical outcomes due to treatment delays or missed treatment when patients cannot be located. Shorter assays, such as the Atlas system, which requires 30 minutes, and the GeneXpert assay, which currently requires 90 minutes, have the potential to be exceptions to this.”
Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Healthline that it can be especially difficult to track down patients who get tested in an emergency room setting.
The lag between getting tested and receiving results can increase the risk of further transmission of the disease, Adalja said.
“If you’re delaying treatment, you’re delaying personal notification,” he said.
In the study, 96 percent of women said they would notify their sexual partners about their chlamydia test results.
“The goal for any infectious disease is to have point-of-contact testing,” said Adalja.
Eighty-six percent of study participants said self-administering the test was easy and most said they would pay up to $20 for the ability to take the test at home and mail samples in to get results.
“A patient should be able to choose if he or she comes into a clinic, goes to a pharmacy, or takes a test at home for STD diagnosis. The bottom line is to encourage people to get tested,” Gaydos told Healthline.
An at-home test would also counter the stigma attached to contracting diseases such as chlamydia or even visiting an STD clinic, Adalja added.
“We need to remove as many barriers to care as possible,” he said.
Chlamydia is the most frequently diagnosed STD in the United States, with 1.7 million cases reported annually.
The reported rate of chlamydia, which can be transmitted by vaginal or oral sex, has risen 22 percent since 2013.
Untreated, the illness can cause serious health problems, especially among women, including infertility, chronic pelvic pain, and greater risk of tubal pregnancies.
Some people infected with the disease will exhibit symptoms such as discharge from the penis or vagina.
Others, however, have no noticeable symptoms, increasing the risk of transmitting the disease further.
The study authors said that rapid testing might improve patient outcomes, but further studies would be needed.
Dr. Chirag Shah, co-founder of Accesa Labs, a lab service that offers chlamydia testing, told Healthline that vaginal swabs “are often more uncomfortable and technically difficult for patients to perform accurately, so a larger-scale study would be recommended to compare swab accuracy against urine chlamydia testing.”
Shah, who nonetheless praised the innovation underlying the rapid chlamydia test, said an additional benefit could be to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics.
“Most patients with suspected chlamydia symptoms are currently treated with antibiotics prior to receiving full test results,” he said. “Rapid chlamydia testing, if accurately performed, looks like it can decrease the necessity of empirical treatment of chlamydia as long as good patient follow-up is available.”
However, he noted, “Gonorrhea is usually treated empirically whenever a chlamydia infection is suspected, and… will still be required even if rapid chlamydia testing is being used.”
Most of the women in the study were African-American. The average age of participants was 27 years. About half reported having had a chlamydia infection in the past.
Current symptoms of a possible sexually transmitted illness or vaginitis were reported by 58 percent of those in the study.
A new, rapid test for chlamydia can yield accurate results in 30 minutes.
People who get test results at the point of contact with the healthcare system can get immediate treatment.
Quick treatment can prevent health problems for people with the disease and prevent it from spreading further.