At-home STI screening—via tampon

Move over lateral-flow assays, there’s a new home testing technology taking the self-screening world by storm.

Instead of the test tube or flat lateral-flow tests many patients are used to, the approach we’re talking about takes an unexpected form: a tampon.

Femtech startup Daye is expanding its tampon-based gynecological screening services to offer STI testing. The PCR-based test can detect five common STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas, mycoplasma, and ureaplasma.

So, why put a test in a tampon? And what other diagnostic innovations does femtech have in store? Today, we’re unwrapping these questions and more.

Illustration by Mary Delaney
Illustration by Mary Delaney

Stigma and STI testing 

By taking the STI test home, Daye removes a barrier many patients face to this important health maintenance practice: Having to go to a clinic in person.

The social stigma around sexual health—and especially STI testing—remains a significant barrier to care. Patient experiences with this stigma, or even fears of it, keep patients from seeking this kind of care or even referring partners for testing and treatment. This further contributes to the rising public health crisis of STI transmission.

An STI test that doesn’t require braving an uncomfortable healthcare experience could be just what patients need to engage in this important health-seeking behavior.

Taking things a step further, the best way to make customers comfortable with a new product is to create an iteration of something they already know how to use. Hence, the test in a tampon.

Users only need to insert the testing tampon as they normally would with a menstrual product, remove it, and mail it back to Daye’s lab in the provided specimen bag.

Daye is perfectly poised to make this connection while showing stigma to the door. Its signature product already reimagines what a tampon can do: Their CBD-infused tampon combats period cramps.

Today’s DTC testing arena

The pandemic ushered in a boom in DTC health testing. Now, it’s not just those of us who took a university biology class who know what PCR is.

COVID-19 got many people used to quick and user-friendly health tests. And even as the COVID-19 testing market waxes and wanes, people are ready to find out more about their health from the comfort of home.

Whether it’s a tampon-based STI test or a longevity forecasting cheek swab, we’re excited about this new generation of self-testing. 

At the same time, we acknowledge that there may be actors taking advantage of a lower-regulated DTC market to promote products backed by limited scientific evidence. These concerns have been raised by the scientific community, and we join in the calls for more oversight in this area. After all, for these products to be successful and adopted, patients and providers alike need to be able to trust their results.

In the meantime, democratizing access to health information is a big win for preventive health. As more of these tests become adopted by the public, we expect that the healthcare industry will get on board, creating a more integrated patient experience rather than two separate pathways. We’re seeing this already with at-home COVID Test to Treat programs.

Femtech diagnostics companies raise the bar

Femtech is making its mark on the DTC diagnostics market. It extends a long history of gynecological innovation in the testing arena.

After all, gynecological self-testing (or even doing it via tampon) didn’t start with Daye. 

“This isn’t a novel scientific discovery—it’s existing scientific knowledge that we’re building upon,” said Daye founder Valentina Milanova. “Since the 1990s, when researchers from Westminster University first pioneered the method of menstrual tampon screening, we’ve known that tampons have greater levels of sensitivity and specificity, or diagnostic capacity, compared to vaginal swabs and cervical swabs and urinary swabs for the detection of vaginal infections and STIs. So what we’re doing now with the introduction of the gynecological health screen is we’re hoping to democratize access to insightful gynecological health information that is not typically available through other providers or through the NHS.”

Plus, STIs are far from the only gynecological condition innovative self-tests can detect. 

Before the STI Diagnostic Tampon, Daye began by offering a vaginal microbiome testing upgrade to its line of organic tampons. In fact, vaginal microbiome testing is having a moment right now—other strong players are Juno Bio and Evvy. (Don’t miss our Pulse Check interview below for an interview with Evvy co-founder Laine Bruzek.)

We applaud these femtech leaders on their creative work. They’re pushing the boundaries of what we consider baseline preventive health, and our futures will be better for it. 

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