The importance of knowing the pathogens that cause sexually transmitted and vaginal infections

The global prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is measured at more than 1 million new cases every day, most of which are asymptomatic. Accordingly, there are approximately 374 million new infections each year, which include three of the most common curable STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis [1]. These three STIs, as well as the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium, can lead to complications including cervicitis, urethritis, preterm labor, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). They can also increase the risk of contracting HIV.

Research to better characterize and identify vaginal microbiota is also important for the health of women, their fetuses, and newborns. Globally, there are approximately 1 billion women affected each year by urogenital infections, including vaginitis. Bacterial vaginosis alone affects 21.2 million women annually and is the most common vaginal condition affecting women ages 15–44 [2]. This underscores the importance of detecting common prevalent STIs and vaginal pathogens to understand outbreaks and disease etiology.


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  • STI and vaginal health infection testing is not uniform—molecular testing has enabled the simultaneous detection of different pathogens.
  • Differentiating viral and/or bacterial infections is essential for selecting the appropriate treatment. 
  • Unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics without knowing the pathogen causing the infection can lead to drug resistance.

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Common pathogens that cause sexually transmitted and vaginal infections





Chlamydia trachomatis

Mycoplasma genitalium 

Mycoplasma hominis

Ureaplasma parvum 

Neisseria gonorrhoeae

 Ureaplasma urealyticum 

Gardnerella vaginalis

Prevotella bivia 

Mobiluncus curtisii 


Staphylococcus aureus

Atopobium vaginae  

Megasphaera Type 1 (Mega 1) 

Bacteroides fragilis 

Bacterial vaginosis associated bacteria 2 (BVAB2)

Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1)

Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV 2)


Varicella zoster virus



Candida albicans

Candida krusei

Candida glabrata

Candida dubliniensis

Candida tropicalis

Candida parapsilosis

Trichomonas vaginalis


Benefits of STI and vaginal health molecular testing


Diagnostic PCR testing

Diagnostic PCR (molecular) testing is considered the gold standard for pathogen detection and accuracy of results. The superior sensitivity of a molecular test can detect low pathogen loads. Molecular testing also has the benefit of scalability. Most lab-based PCR tests can accommodate 94 to 384 samples (including controls) simultaneously on a single plate.

Implementing PCR-based molecular testing improves accuracy and shortens time-to-results.

Real-time PCR technology has significant advantages over other methods for identifying infectious disease pathogens. Traditional methods like culturing, immunodiagnostics, and microscopy can be inaccurate, subjective, or prone to contamination and often require repeat testing or reflex testing. Fastidious microorganisms often cannot be grown or detected using traditional methods, and long sample processing times can delay time-to-results. Molecular tests for relevant pathogens may be unavailable or lack flexibility.

Multiplex testing

Multiplex testing simultaneously differentiates sexually transmitted or vaginal diseases and helps identify cases of co-infection. Multiplex assay panels can go from two targets to dozens, making it an efficient technique.


Testing methods

Clear culture dish showing pathogens in medium


A sample is sent to a lab where experts encourage organisms in the sample to multiply. Then they examine the dish to identify the pathogen.

Clear culture dish showing pathogens in medium

Antigen (Rapid) 

Sample collection swabs are agitated in a pre-mixed solution and tested on a paper strip to return results within 30 minutes.

 Collection tube with purple cap

Serology (Blood)

A blood sample collected from a syringe checks for the presence of antibodies against microorganisms

Scientist performing molecular PCR testing in a laboratory

Molecular (PCR)

Genetic material from samples collected on swabs is amplified to detect genetic traces of a specific organism, even in early stages of infection.


Educational Resources

Laboratorian pipetting molecular sample

Webinar: STI Testing–What to Offer and How to Offer It

Watch on-demand  

Blurred background with gloved hand holding molecular model

Article: Thermo Fisher Scientific Works to Combat Risking STI Epidemic with Better, Faster Testing

Read article  

Close up of STI blood sample in collection tube

Article: How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the spread of sexually transmitted infections?

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