Objective To compare vulvovaginal swabs with endocervical swabs as optimal diagnostic sample for detection of Chlamydia trachomatis infection.
Design A diagnostic test study.
Setting An urban sexual health centre.
Participants 3973 women aged ≥16 years requesting testing for sexually transmitted infections.
Interventions Participants took a vulvovaginal swab before routine examination, and clinicians took an endocervical swab during examination.
Main outcome measure Diagnosis of chlamydia infection with samples analysed using the Aptima Combo-2 assay; positive results confirmed with the Aptima CT assay.
Results Of the 3973 participants, 410 (10.3%) were infected with C trachomatis. Infected women were significantly younger (22 v 25 years, P<0.0001) and more likely to have symptoms suggestive of a bacterial sexually transmitted infection (53% v 41%, odds ratio 1.63 (95% CI 1.30 to 2.04)), be a contact of someone with a sexually transmitted infection (25% v 5%, odds ratio 6.18 (4.61 to 8.30)), clinically diagnosed with cervicitis (17% v 4%, odds ratio 4.92 (3.50 to 6.91)), and have pelvic inflammatory disease (9% v 3%, odds ratio 2.85 (1.87 to 4.33)). When women co-infected with gonorrhoea were included in the analysis, there was an association with mixed ethnicity (10% v 7%, odds ratio 1.53 (1.07 to 2.17)); but when those with gonorrhoea were removed, women of white ethnicity were significantly more likely to have chlamydia (85% v 80%, odds ratio 1.40 (1.03 to 1.91)). On analysis of complete paired results, vulvovaginal swabs were significantly more sensitive than endocervical swabs (97% (95% CI 95% to 98%) v 88% (85% to 91%), P<0.00001); corresponding specificities were 99.9% and 100%. In women with symptoms suggestive of a bacterial sexually transmitted infection, vulvovaginal swabs were significantly more sensitive than endocervical swabs (97% (93% to 98%) v 88% (83% to 92%), P=0.0008), as they were in women without symptoms (97% (94% to 99%) v 89% (84% to 93%), P=0.002).
Conclusions Vulvovaginal swabs are significantly better than endocervical swabs at detecting chlamydia in women with and without symptoms suggestive of sexually transmitted infections. In those with symptoms, using endocervical samples rather than vulvovaginal swabs would have missed 9% of infections, or 1 in every 11 cases of chlamydia.
Trial registration ISRCTN42867448.