Vaginal self-swab specimen collection in a home-based survey of older women: methods and applications

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2009 Nov;64 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):i106-18. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbn021. Epub 2009 Feb 9.


Objectives: To describe the methods used for, cooperation with, assays conducted on, and applications of vaginal specimens collected by older women in their homes.

Methods: Community-residing women (N = 1,550), ages 57-85 years, participated in a nationally representative probability survey. Vaginal self-swab specimen collection and in-home interviews were conducted between 2005 and 2006. Specimens were analyzed for bacterial vaginosis (BV), vaginal candidiasis (VC), high-risk human papillomavirus (HR-HPV), and cytological characteristics. Field methods, consent procedures, the swab protocol, laboratory procedures, and results reporting are described.

Results: One thousand twenty-eight respondents (67.5% weighted) agreed to provide a vaginal specimen; 99.1% were successful. The specimen adequacy rates were BV and VC, 94.1%; HR-HPV, 99.7%; and cytology, 85.5%. The most common recorded reason for nonparticipation was a physical or health problem (38% of nonresponders). Responders were significantly more likely than nonresponders to be younger and more educated, and were more likely to report a recent pelvic examination, menopausal hormone use, and recent sexual activity.

Discussion: Collection of vaginal self-swab specimens from older women in a population-based study is feasible and provides novel data on microenvironmental characteristics of the female genital tract relevant to analyses of gynecologic health, sexual activity and problems, and immune and inflammatory function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Candidiasis, Vulvovaginal / diagnosis
  • Candidiasis, Vulvovaginal / epidemiology
  • Cell Count
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Papillomavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Papillomavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Specimen Handling
  • United States
  • Vagina / cytology
  • Vaginal Smears*
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / diagnosis
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / epidemiology