A mockumentary on STI sniffer dogs is racking up the views on YouTube as it attempts to shock
people into getting tested, writes Ailin Quinlan
That’s not their perfume he’s smelling - this highly-trained dog is hunting people with a sexually transmitted disease.
At least that’s what hundreds or even thousands of people believe – they’ve been fooled by Sniffers, a spoof documentary which features a squad of sniffer dogs raiding a nightclub to ‘out’ people with sexually transmitted infections.
The video shows party-goers suspected of harbouring an STI being questioned in the street before being led off to a special van.
The mockumentary, which features an entirely fictional STI Detection Unit, has caused a sensation on YouTube.
The deadpan film was uploaded as part of a viral advertising campaign by an Irish company which makes home testing kits for 10 named sexually-transmitted infections.
Although only released in December, Sniffers has racked up more than 175,000 views.
“The feedback has been excellent. We have shown it to GPs and medical professionals in the north and got good reaction,” said Chris Henry, Marketing Manager at Randox Laboratories in Co Antrim, which produced the video.
“There would be about 16,000 people who thought it was real or could be real,” he said.
The short opens at a special centre where the dogs - Radar, Jazz and Frisbee - are trained to use their keen sense of smell to detect herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea and other sexually transmitted infections.
The canines later accompany a squad of grim-faced handlers onto the streets and into a nightclub to expose some horrified night-clubbers.
The plan – to highlight the need for testing in the context of the growing incidence of sexually transmitted disease. In recent years this country has experienced an alarming rise in conditions like chlamydia, HIV, Herpes and gonorrhoea. Statistics show that more than 70% of all cases here in 2012 were in people aged under 30, with 59% in the 19-20 age group and 11.3% in those aged 19 and under.
In fact almost 13,000 cases of STDs were recorded during 2012, but it’s believed that figure is just the tip of the iceberg, because many people are embarrassed to go to an STI clinic. On top of that many STIs don’t have symptoms, so sufferers may not even know they’re infected.
“The idea is to shock people into an awareness of STIs,” says Henry: “Our goal was to engage a whole new audience of potential customers who may be too embarrassed to get a sexual health check.
“We believe this campaign does exactly that, communicating the shock of being exposed in public, but doing it with humour, in a way people can engage with, without feeling they are publically declaring they have an STI.
“Anyone who ever had unprotected sex should have a test, and if you change partners you should have a test. It’s that simple.”
The creative team got the idea of sniffer dogs from reports of dogs detecting everything from medical conditions to drugs, and money, he says, “so it’s not that far-fetched!”
The film ends with the suggestion that you “check your privates in private” by using the company’s £50 home-testing Confidante test kit which it says can test for 10 STIs.
“All 10 sexually transmitted diseases can be detected through the urine sample but we have the belt and braces, because the kit contains is a urine sample and also equipment for taking a swab if you see lesions or sores,” adds Henry.
Anything that helps awareness of the need to consider testing for STI is good, and a satirical approach like that in Sniffers is not a bad idea, believes Alison Begas, Chief Executive of the Dublin Well Woman Centre.
The quality, sensitivity and analysis of home testing kits was improving all the time, she says, adding that “it might not be a bad idea for those who cannot access a doctor or STI clinic.”
However, she emphasises, if a test came back as positive for something like HIV, the Well Woman Centre always runs a second test.
However, Dr Derek Freedman, a leading expert in STIs, objected to the message of the video:
“It stigmatises the whole issue of sexually transmitted infections.
I think it could drive people underground even more and if someone is anxious about an infection it will increase the burden on them.”
But the use of humour in the documentary made the difficult subject of STIs more mainstream, points out Andrew Spurgeon, Executive Creative Director at the advertising company Langland:
“Ultimately this is about encouraging people to test – it gives you the option of handling it discreetly and on your own.”
Dr Freedman also expressed concern about the kit, which he said was “claiming to detect infections that are not detectable from urine with any reliability, for example, syphilis which is mostly detected through a blood test,” and added that there were no published trials on the use of this test.
However, Dr Martin Crockard, Molecular Diagnostics Manager at Randox said the kit contained both a urine test and equipment for taking a swab from a lesion or blister:
“The instructions are clear. If you have a lesion or blister which may be an indication of herpes or syphilis you take a swab. There are two routes for sample testing. If you have a genital lesion you must take a swab.
“We have two tubes in each kit so if you take a swab from a lesion you also take a urine sample.
“It’s very much a belt and braces approach and we state very clearly the 10 STIs that we look for.”
There is evidence that testing for syphilis in urine was possible, he said, adding however, that it was made clear on the kit that the most suitable sample type for syphilis was a swab from a lesion.
Dr Crockard acknowledged that there had been no published trials on the use of the test but said the company was currently preparing manuscripts for publication.
“To-date Dr Freedman is the only person who has had any issue with the kit. Although it is a direct-to-public testing kit it is also being used by genital-urinary medical consultants and private testing labs.”
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