A free at-home testing kit for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Photo courtesy of Color Health.

Despite the stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections, chlamydia and gonorrhea are very prevalent but highly treatable. A new pilot program from the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) is making it easier for young people to access testing at home and with no cost and no insurance. 

ACHD Clinical Services Deputy Director Dr. Barbara Nightingale says this program is essential for overcoming the common barriers that young people face in dealing with their sexual health — a lack of insurance or primary care provider.

“Many young people are not established with any primary care provider because they’re generally in good health,” Nightingale says. “And as we all know, a lot of people don’t go see any kind of healthcare provider until they actually have a problem. So this is a way for people without any symptoms at all and without access to health care to get tested.” 

In 2021 in Allegheny County, there were 2,398 reported cases of gonorrhea, a 6% increase from the prior year. In the same year, there were 5,715 cases of chlamydia, a 1% increase.

According to the ACHD, chlamydia rates are highest among women between 15 and 24. Gonorrhea is highest in men ages 20 to 29 and women 15 to 24. 

“Testing is key to stopping the spread and reducing the rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea,” ACHD Medical Epidemiologist Dr. Kristen Mertz says in a press release. “Women who are sexually active and under 25 years of age and all men who have sex with men should be screened at least annually.”

Nightingale says that while both diseases are highly treatable with antibiotics, they can cause a range of health issues if left untreated.

A free at-home testing kit for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Photo courtesy of Color Health.

“Long-term, some of the complications can be chronic pain. It can cause infertility in women, and, though uncommon, it can spread to other organ systems in the body and cause really severe disease,” says Nightingale.

The free test is available for the first 500 participants. An optional survey will help the ACHD gather feedback on the process and ensure that they are targeting the correct populations.  

The ACHD also is also seeing higher rates of syphilis and HIV, and Nightingale hopes that the at-home testing option becomes more viable for other STIs. 

“Before we expand, we want to make sure that things go smoothly and that we are able to provide really excellent and seamless care for patients, and then we can ramp up and expand the service,” Nightingale says.

Residents of Allegheny County between the ages of 18-24 are eligible to participate in the free testing program by registering online. The test is conducted at home, mailed back to the lab, and results are emailed within three to five days after the sample arrives at the lab.

The test is conducted by Color Health, a healthcare company that works to provide equitable and accessible healthcare services. 

A Pittsburgh native, Ethan is a freelance journalist interested in telling the stories of people doing great things to build community and sustainability. Ethan served as Editor-in-Chief of Allegheny College's newspaper, The Campus.