DIY Test for STD Works

Gonorrhea self-performed swab test detects STI better than other methods

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Uh oh, maybe you need to get checked out down there for some not-so-fun disease. A test you can do yourself (with some help) can figure it out and it works very well.

Swabs of the private parts taken by women themselves can detect a certain sexually transmitted infection (STI) better than more invasive methods, a recently published study has found.

Whether or not women have symptoms of gonorrhea, the swab method is more efficient than taking culture samples and doesn't involve as much poking into the body by doctors and nurses, according to researchers.

"See which STI test is right for you."

The aim of the study, led by Catherine Stewart, specialty registrar in genitourinary medicine at Leeds General Infirmary, was to see how well women who take their own vaginal swabs can test for an STI compared to culture samples taken by clinicians.

The 3,859 participants, who ranged between 16 and 59 years old, were recruited at a sexual health clinic in the UK through 42 different clinicians between March 2009 and January 2010. About 80 percent of the participants were white.

About 37 percent of the participants previously had an STI and 7 percent reported being in contact with a partner who was recently diagnosed with an STI. And 42 percent of the participants had at least one bacterial STI symptom.

The women agreed to take a vulvovaginal swab on themselves before having a routine examination to be tested for an STI.

During the examination, doctors and nurses took culture samples from inside each woman's urethra and cervix, as well as an endocervical swab for further testing.

After the swabs were taken, they were placed into a tube and sent off for testing. One percent of the swabs taken by the women themselves could not be used because of issues with handling the tubes.

Less than 1 percent of samples taken by the clinicians could not be used as they were incorrectly labeled.

Among all the participants, 96 of them, or 2.5 percent, had gonorrhea. About 3.4 percent of those who had symptoms  had the STI compared to 1.8 percent of those without symptoms.

Researchers found the culture test was 81 percent sensitive, or able to detect the STI. The endocervical and vulvovaginal swabs were 96 and 99 percent sensitive, respectively.

"In women without symptoms, the vulvovaginal swab is the sample of choice and has the advantage of allowing non-invasive sampling," researchers wrote in their report.

"For women who need a clinical examination, we would recommend vulvovaginal swabs either taken themselves or by a clinician."

The endocervical test worked 90 percent of the time for women without symptoms compared to 100 percent in women who had some symptom. The vaginal test worked similarly for the two groups at 98 and 100 percent, respectively.

The authors note they had limited data in their study, since only 41 percent of all eligible participants actually gave permission to be part of the study, even though they had a large number of participants.

The study was published online December 12 in BMJ. Gen-Probe supported the study by providing the diagnostic and tools and equipment. The authors, who are not affiliated with the company, do not report any conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 2, 2013
Last Updated:
January 6, 2013