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Could Your Phone Test You For STIs?

Posted in Sexual Health 26 Mar, 2015

Many of us are glued to our phones and for good reason – our electronic devices from mobiles to tablets represent our lifestyle choices. The way your phone is organised can reflect how you are as a person, the apps you choose reveal your hobbies and even the brand can suggest your job role and personal interests. Yes, your phone is a part of you. And there appears to be an app for everything. The dating world has exploded since the emergence of apps such as Tinder, fitness trackers have us achieving our goals faster than ever and let's not forget social media keeping us connected 24/7, all at your fingertips.

In terms of medical apps, there are already a few on the market. Mainly revolving around symptom checking, these apps propose a possible solution but often ask you to contact your GP for further analysis. The result? You end up with a list of conflicting symptoms leaving you even more confused with additional worry settling in to boot.

With the majority of illnesses and conditions, most of us are usually happen to be open about our symptoms when seeking treatment. But when it comes to STIs, we require a certain level of privacy to avoid embarrassment while getting our bodies back on track. Not dealing with your condition promptly can lead to further complications down the line and you want a service that will supply you with the treatment promptly and without fanfare. Nearly half a million people are diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease every single year. A possible breakthrough in tackling these astonishing numbers comes the form of researchers at Columbia University, who tested a phone attachment device designed to detect two of the most recognisable STIs; HIV and syphilis.

The phone accessory has been developed to replicate a standard laboratory blood test. This low-cost device (also know as a dongle) can recognise the infection within 15 minutes, is light and convenient and uses blood samples from the usual finger prick method to establish whether you have the condition. It was developed in Columbia and tested by health care workers in Rwanda using the blood samples from 96 patients with 97% of patients leaving a positive review.

An interesting and potentially life-changing device that could reduce STI rates across the world, team leader at Columbia University Samuel Sia has stated that, by increasing the detection of syphilis infections, the app could "reduce deaths by 10-fold".

Whilst this is a pioneering move in the medical world, and provides an encouraging development regarding one of the UK's top health issues - sexually transmitted infections are increasing steadily year on year – there are a few drawbacks. Dr. Ambreen Khalil, an infectious disease specialist at Staten Island University Hospital, has called into question the device's capability in analysing a blood sample, as this is unlikely to be on a par with the laboratory tests within medical institutions:

"Although an encouraging development, there are significant limitations, such as comparison with confirmatory tests in standardized laboratories."

This begs the question – would we ever place our faith in our phone before a real life medical professional when it comes to our health?

Whilst this device is still in it's infancy, once the dongle and its surrounding system have been refined, this could revolutionise the way we analyse symptoms of other STIs, such as chlamydia and herpes, to say nothing of other medical conditions. And being able to test ourselves at home could go a long way in reducing time spent at the doctors, freeing both them and us up for more important tasks.

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