New at-home kit promises to be the Amazon of STD testing

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Now that we can order almost everything online, one entrepreneur wants to take a page out of the tech playbook to ease a certain awkward visit to the doctor: getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

It comes on the heels of a Valentine's Day announcement by San Francisco's public health department:

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"Syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, all of them are rising. And this is a phenomenon that's happening really all over the country," said San Francisco City Clinic medical director Stephanie Cohen.

Cohen said some experts blame a decline in condom use. There are now new ways for people living with HIV to avoid spreading the virus, and for people who are HIV negative to avoid contracting it.

"But unfortunately, neither of them prevent against other sexually transmitted diseases," Cohen said.

So the advice of public health officials is to get tested, and do it often. San Francisco recommends annual testing for all women, and more frequent tests -- every three months -- for those populations most at risk: young women of color, transgender people, and men who have sex with other men.

RELATED: Bay Area health officials urge STD testing on Valentine's Day

San Francisco's City Clinic sees about 9,000 people a year for either testing or treatment. But entrepreneur Lora Ivanova says that's not enough.

"People by and large in the U.S. are not getting tested," she said. "Only 62 percent of Americans ever test for an infection. Less than half ever test for anything other than HIV."

Ivanova said she hopes her startup can change those numbers with its at-home STD test called MyLab Box. Customers can order it online, take the test at home, and go back online to read the results and seek treatment. To Ivanova, who comes from an e-commerce background, the idea just makes sense.

"How often would you brush your teeth if somebody told you you had to go to the dentist every time you had to do it?" she asked.

Ivanova admits MyLab Box isn't for everyone -- especially those who don't have insurance or can't stomach the out-of-pocket cost of the tests, which can range from $79 to $369. Free and low-cost municipal clinics remain ideal for those with financial hardship. But she's hoping to reach a group that has other obstacles.

"It's not the price of the test, it's the concern with privacy, of not being seen by your community," she said. "If you're actually a working professional or going to school, how much time do you have to deal with situations like this?"

It's an STD test for a generation that does everything online -- including dating. In fact, Ivanova said some think online dating is one reason the infection rate has taken a turn for the worse.

"Sexually transmitted infections are traveling at a much higher rate and across different groups, rather than being contained in a small social circle," she said.

If a test comes back positive, MyLab Box takes an approach that's strikingly similar to the City Clinic. Both organizations reach out proactively with counseling, and in some cases, offer a phone call with a doctor who can immediately call in a prescription to the nearest pharmacy.

Cohen said sexual health experts have found at-home HIV testing to be an effective tool for those who would otherwise be reluctant. She said she has high hopes for MyLab Box and other products like it.

"We need to innovate," she said. "We need to be creative, and we need to have a range of options for how people can access our services."

Click here for more information about MyLab Box.
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