The humble tampon is being repurposed to screen for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. The at-home test, created by the startup Daye, uses a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to check for the most common STIs. It’s now only available in the UK but could soon be available in the US and the European Union.
It’s a very simple process. The person uses the tampon as usual and then inserts it into the extraction solution (just like the at-home Covid-19 tests). The tampon is then sent to the lab and the person gets the results digitally in five working days. This avoids the awkwardness that may come from visiting a doctor’s clinic after having unprotected sex.
This is especially important considering the impact of STIs. Over one million STIs are acquired every day. In 2020, the World Health Organization estimated 374 million new infections, mainly of chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis. While tests are widely available in high-income countries, this isn’t the case in low-income ones.
“Tampons can break the cycle of poor innovation in gynaecological health. They can be used to administer medications directly to the vagina, and also provide a more accurate sample than a standard swab,” Daye said in a media statement when launching its new product. “The potential of tampons has been largely overlooked.”
An innovative approach
Studies have shown that tampons can be used to detect some STIs with greater efficacy than traditional swab methods. However, this didn’t lead to them being used for that purpose – until now. In its statement, Daye blames the “high levels of monopolization in the tampon industry,” which they are aiming to challenge.
The company says its at-home test is supported by its own clinical trial data, collected from over 600 patients. Valentina Milanova, the founder of Daye, told The Guardian that they observed a 1% test failure due to insufficient sample collection, which she argues is much lower than the over 10% recorded with the swab.
The test costs $120 and Daye also offers an additional consultation at $35. Poobashni Govender, a gynaecologist and co-founder of Mercuri Health, told Glamour UK that while the technology is promising, more tests are needed to determine its accuracy. She also highlighted the importance of people following up with medical advice.
For Daye, this is only the start. While their test now covers five STIs (chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas, mycoplasma and ureaplasma), the company wants to include HPV testing in the near future. It has already started studying this in a clinical trial. HPV is a very common STI despite already having a vaccine that’s safe and effective. This may just be the start of a new direction in gynaecological health.