Purpose: To obtain reliable estimates of the sensitivity and specificity of the cervical Papanicolaou (Pap) smear and wet mount to diagnose vaginal trichomoniasis.
Methods: Articles indexed in MEDLINE (1976-1998) about diagnostic tests for trichomoniasis and their listed references were retrieved. Thirty studies (9,501 patients) that used trichomonas culture as a gold standard were selected. Studies were defined as level I if they fulfilled at least two of the following three criteria: consecutive patients were evaluated prospectively, the decision to culture was not influenced by test results, and there was independent and blind comparison with culture. Studies were classified as level II if one criterion was fulfilled, and as level III otherwise.
Results: The pooled sensitivity of the Pap smear for the diagnosis of trichomoniasis among level I studies was 57% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 51% to 63%) and the pooled specificity was 97% (95% CI: 93% to 100%). The likelihood ratio for a positive Pap smear was 19 among level I studies (range: 8 to 62). The pooled sensitivity of the wet mount among level I studies was 58% (95% CI: 51% to 66%); among level II studies, the sensitivity was 72% (95% CI: 62% to 81%), and among level III studies, the sensitivity was 82% (95% CI: 67% to 97%). The overall specificity of the wet mount was 99.8%.
Conclusions: A positive Pap smear for trichomonads in settings in which trichomoniasis is common (prevalence > or =20%) requires treatment. A positive Pap smear is indeterminate when the prevalence of trichomoniasis is about 10%; thus, clinicians should either confirm the diagnosis by culture or treat all such patients, recognizing that some patients will be treated unnecessarily. A culture should be obtained in women with a positive Pap smear who are unlikely to have trichomoniasis (prevalence < or =1%). While a positive wet mount is diagnostic, a negative wet mount does not exclude trichomoniasis.