Diagnosing STDs... with your phone?

To encourage more people to get tested for STDs, British health officials are developing a private, no-shame, high-tech way to let them test themselves

The privacy of your own phone: STD diagnosis may no longer require an embarrassing visit to the doctor.
(Image credit: Corbis)

To combat their country's rising STDs rates among the younger set, scientists in the United Kingdom are turning to, what else, cell phones and computers. Investors, including a government agency, have put up more than $6 million to develop a technology that would allow people to test themselves for STDs with the aid of a cell phone or computer, a chip, and, of course, a urine or saliva sample. "Seriously, we could not make this stuff up if we tried," quips Ben Popper at The Observer. Here, a brief guide to what's being developed:

Surely this isn't about peeing on your phone?

No. People who suspect they have an STD would place a urine or saliva sample on a small, disposable chip that would retail for a buck or two. They'd be sold in nightclub vending machines, drug stores, and pharmacies — just as condoms are. The chips would then be inserted into a mobile phone or computer. "Your mobile phone can be your mobile doctor," says Dr. Tariq Sadiq, the sexual health specialist leading the project.

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What happens after you insert the microchip?

The phone or computer would then test the sample for a range of infections, from chlamydia to gonorrhea, using "nanotechnology and microfluidics" — and generate a diagnosis within minutes, much like a home pregnancy test. Those who test positively for an STD would also receive treatment information. "Some people may find going into a doctor's surgery to be tested an intimidating experience, so it's crucial that we find new ways to engage with people," says Dr. Marion Henderson of the Medical Research Council.

Are STDs unusually common in the U.K.?

Infections have been steadily rising over the last decade, reaching a record high in 2009, when 482,696 new cases of STDs were reported. Two-thirds of new female cases and half of their male counterparts were under 25 — and presumably techno-savvy. "We hope that the application of new technology will help to reduce transmission of infection in this age group," says Professor Noel Gill, who runs the STD and HIV unit at the government's Health Protection Agency.

Sources: The Guardian, The Observer

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