PCR-based rapid diagnostic tests as a strategy for preventing infections with sexually transmitted diseases-a 'diagnostics-as-prevention' modelling approach

Lett Appl Microbiol. 2018 Oct;67(4):420-424. doi: 10.1111/lam.13059. Epub 2018 Aug 26.


The potential was modelled of molecular rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) that target agents of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to contribute to a reduction in the exposure risk for sexually active populations who prefer condom-free high-risk contacts. The biostatistical approach is exemplified by considering the use of a PCR-based RDT for Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae in a population of German men having sex with men. We modelled the exposure risk as risk of sexual contact with individuals infected by a STD in spite of multiple RDTs having been conducted to identify STDs that could lead to avoidance of an infectious sexual contact. The risk for a given specific disease is influenced by the diagnostic accuracy of all diagnostic tests conducted. The simulation showed a reduction in exposure risk through conducting the selected PCR-based RDT as a strategy to prevent infections with C. trachomatis and N. gonorrhoeae in comparison with unprotected sexual contact of >97% for C. trachomatis and ≥96% for N. gonorrhoeae. Reliable knowledge of the performance characteristics of the diagnostic tests applied is essential for a thorough risk assessment based on such diagnostic approaches.

Significance and impact of the study: A low-threshold use of molecular rapid diagnostic tests in settings where risky sexual activity is undertaken with deliberate non-use of condoms is modelled. Such an approach might contribute to a considerable reduction in the exposure risk if positively tested individuals are excluded from unprotected sexual intercourse. Protective effects are influenced by the prevalence of the disease and the performance characteristics of the applied tests. Precise knowledge of the performance characteristics of the test assays employed are prerequisites of a reliable risk assessment. The modelling approach is of particular use for preventive health experts.

Keywords: Chlamydia trachomatis; Neisseria gonorrhoeae; exposure reduction; molecular rapid diagnostic tests; sexually transmitted disease.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chlamydia Infections / diagnosis*
  • Chlamydia Infections / microbiology
  • Chlamydia Infections / prevention & control
  • Chlamydia trachomatis / isolation & purification
  • Condoms
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine
  • Female
  • Gonorrhea / diagnosis*
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology
  • Gonorrhea / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / isolation & purification
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Prevalence
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / microbiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control
  • Unsafe Sex*