Diagnosis of some genital-tract infections: part 1. An historical perspective

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Making a prompt and accurate diagnosis of genital tract infections is the key to instituting appropriate treatment and the linchpin of sexually transmitted infection control. We present a brief history, not covering syphilis, of diagnostic events for each of six bacteria and one protozoan from the time of discovery up to the molecular revolution. The latter is touched upon but its impact will form the substance of a further presentation. Here, hindsight is helpful in understanding the way in which progress was made over 135 years, often when microbiology, not even seen as a distinct discipline, had a difficult time in providing what was required in terms of dependable diagnostic techniques. Gram-staining, growth on artificial media, growth in cultured cells, enzyme immunoassays, metabolic and immunofluorescence tests have all had their place and some still do despite the avalanche of the molecular era. Serology to determine the existence of organism-specific antibodies has been important in managing syphilis, but has only sometimes been helpful in supporting a diagnosis for other infections and has rarely been the primary deciding factor.

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