Diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections (STI) using self-collected non-invasive specimens

Sex Health. 2004;1(2):121-6. doi: 10.1071/sh03014.


Paramount in control of transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is their prompt recognition and appropriate treatment. In countries where definitive diagnoses are difficult, a 'syndromic approach' to management of STIs is recommended and practiced, yet many STIs have common symptoms or are asymptomatic and therefore go undetected and untreated. This is of particular concern with the recognition that HIV transmission is increased with co-existent STIs: the attributable risk for each STI varying with the prevalence within a particular population. Hence, HIV public health prevention approaches must include STI preventative strategies to be effective. Even then, microbiological screening is incorporated into STI control strategies; lack of access to appropriate services (especially in rural and remote areas), reluctance of at-risk populations to attend for treatment, fear of invasive genital examinations, and lower sensitivities of conventional diagnostic assays reduces the effectiveness of such programmes. Therefore, accurate, cost-effective, reliable diagnostic assays (preferably those which can be used in the field) are needed to impact on the incidence of the various STIs, as well as HIV. With the advent of molecular technologies, including target and signal amplification methods, diagnoses of STIs have been revolutionised and allow the use of non or minimally invasive sampling techniques, some of which are self-collected by the patient, e.g. first-void urine, cervico-vaginal lavage, low vaginal swabs, and tampons. Most studies evaluating such self-sampling with molecular diagnostic techniques have demonstrated an equivalent or superior detection of STIs as compared to conventional sampling and detection methods. These sampling methods can also be used to determine prevalence of STIs in various populations, but particularly those with difficult access to medical care. In this article, the utility of self-sampling collection devices for detection of various STIs, particularly in women, is reviewed as one step towards formulating appropriate strategies in control of STIs, and which are especially suited for remote areas.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Chlamydia Infections / diagnosis
  • Chlamydia Infections / microbiology
  • Chlamydia trachomatis / isolation & purification
  • Condoms / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gonorrhea / diagnosis
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology
  • Herpes Simplex / diagnosis
  • Herpes Simplex / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / isolation & purification
  • Papillomaviridae / isolation & purification
  • Papillomavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Papillomavirus Infections / microbiology
  • Self Care / methods*
  • Semen / microbiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Simplexvirus / isolation & purification
  • Specimen Handling / instrumentation*
  • Specimen Handling / methods*
  • Tampons, Surgical / microbiology
  • Trichomonas Vaginitis / diagnosis
  • Trichomonas Vaginitis / parasitology
  • Trichomonas vaginalis / isolation & purification
  • Urine / microbiology
  • Vagina / microbiology