Self-taken vaginal swabs versus clinician-taken for detection of candida and bacterial vaginosis: a case-control study in primary care

Pam Barnes, Rute Vieira, Jayne Harwood, Mayur Chauhan

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BACKGROUND: Vaginal discharge and vulvitis are common presenting symptoms in general practice. Few studies have specifically looked at the validity of self-taken low vulvovaginal swabs (LVS) for the diagnosis of vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC) and bacterial vaginosis (BV).

AIM: To assess if patient self-taken LVS are a valid alternative to clinician-taken high vaginal swabs (HVS) for the detection of VVC and BV.

DESIGN AND SETTING: Case-control study with the patient acting as their own control in an urban sexual health centre in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

METHOD: Females aged 16-65 years attending with symptomatic vaginal discharge, vulval irritation, genital pain, and an offensive genital smell were recruited into the study. Participants took a self-taken LVS before vaginal examination, during which a clinician took an HVS (reference standard). Main outcome measures were the diagnosis of BV or VVC infection.

RESULTS: A total of 104 females were enrolled. Of those, 45 were diagnosed with VVC and 26 with BV. The sensitivities of self-taken LVS for VVC and BV were 95.5% and 88.5% respectively. Cohen's κ coefficient showed 'strong agreement' for the detection of both VVC and BV. Vulval itching was the most common symptom associated with VVC (69%), whereas 50% of females diagnosed with BV presented with an offensive discharge. Both symptoms had poor positive predictive values (0.63 and 0.50, respectively).

CONCLUSION: Self-taken LVS appears to be a valid alternative to clinician-taken HVS for detecting VVC and BV infections. Symptoms were found to be a poor indicator of underlying infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e824-e829
Number of pages6
JournalThe British Journal of General Practice
Issue number665
Early online date30 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017



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