Testing for Sexually Transmitted Diseases in US Public Health Laboratories, 2016

Sex Transm Dis. 2020 Feb;47(2):122-127. doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0000000000001101.


Background: Laboratory testing practices are an important part of sexually transmitted disease (STD) diagnosis and control. The goal of this article is to describe the volume and types of STD tests performed in public health laboratories (PHLs) in the United States in 2016.

Methods: A total of 105 state and local PHLs who were members of the Association of Public Health Laboratories were invited to participate in a survey between May and August 2017. This web-based survey included questions on types of tests offered for different types of STDs, the number of tests offered in 2016, and number of samples that tested positive for each STD.

Results: Eighty-one (77.1%) of 105 member PHLs responded. Overall in 2016, 2,242,728 Chlamydia trachomatis tests, 2,298,596 Neisseria gonorrhoeae (GC) tests, 1,235,037 Treponema pallidum (syphilis) tests, 177,571 Trichomonas vaginalis tests, 37,101 herpes simplex virus tests, and 8707 human papillomavirus tests were performed in 2016 in surveyed laboratories. Sixty-seven (82.7%) of PHLs offered C. trachomatis and GC nucleic acid amplification testing. Ninety percent of laboratories performed syphilis testing, 42% performed T. vaginalis testing, and 28.4% performed herpes simplex virus type-specific nucleic acid amplification testing. Few laboratories tested for human papillomavirus.

Conclusions: This survey collected important information on PHL STD laboratory testing practices. Capacity for important reference laboratory testing, such as GC culture and antimicrobial susceptibility, are needed to support STD programs. Public health laboratories play a key role in STD screening, surveillance, and prevention by offering test methods that are not available at commercial laboratories. Funding constraints affect the resources available for STD screening and surveillance, and thus, it is important to continue to monitor testing practices and the capacity of PHLs to test for STDs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chlamydia Infections / diagnosis
  • Chlamydia Infections / epidemiology
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / economics
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Gonorrhea / diagnosis
  • Gonorrhea / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Public Health
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Syphilis / diagnosis
  • Syphilis / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology