SmartSex service set up as STI rates soar in Illawarra

The smarthealth.me website.

The smarthealth.me website.

As the region with the highest rate of sexually transmissible infections for young people in NSW, the Illawarra is the perfect place to pilot a new, no-questions-asked, screening service.

The SmartSex service - which is being launched this week - allows adults to order a pathology request online to check for STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.

Independent Practitioners Network chief medical officer Dr Ged Foley said the discreet service would be good for those who were reluctant, or embarrassed, to talk to a GP about their sexual health.

Users could take their request to a participating pathology collection centre and would be notified of their results by SMS within two business days.

"The rates of STIs have been climbing across Australia over the last 10 years - with more than 26,000 new cases of STIs diagnosed last year in NSW," Dr Foley said.

"It's a big issue in the Illawarra, which has the highest rate of STIs in NSW in the age group 15 to 24 years.

"The figures for one of the most common STIs, chlamydia, are particularly alarming in the region, where there's been a 20 per cent increase in notifications in the past four years.

"And, for every case of diagnosed chlamydia, we know there's four people in the community who are undiagnosed."

Dr Foley said the Illawarra had been chosen to pilot the SmartSex initiative, which would be rolled out nationally over the next year. Residents could access the service by visiting smarthealth.me and entering their postcode.

"I think that a level of complacency has crept in since the strong safe-sex messages of the 1980s and '90s, and there's a new generation which have not had these messages drummed into them, which is why the rates are rising," he said.

"Meanwhile, there's still a stigma around STIs and many people are not comfortable going to their regular doctor, or even another doctor, to talk about testing."

Dr Foley said if the test results were positive, users of the new service would be referred to a doctor of their choice for counselling, treatment and management of the infection.

"Most of these infections are entirely treatable, but if left undiagnosed, could lead to a range of problems including infertility, chronic pelvic pain and even cancer," he said.

"Any tool that motivates people to get tested, and so treated earlier, is a good initiative."

The SmartSex service can test for the six most common STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B and C.

Test prices range from $95 to $129.

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