New Australian chlamydia trial

General practitioners are being recruited for a world-first trial which University of Melbourne researchers hope will triple chlamydia testing rates among participating clinics.

The trial involves a computer alert system which will remind doctors to discuss chlamydia testing with sexually-active women aged 16 to 24 when they access their medical records via the widely-used patient management and prescribing system Medical Director.

General practitioners participating in the trial, which is expected to start in March 2006, will be divided into two groups and the testing rates of doctors using the alert system compared to those which do not.

Project manager Dr Jane Hocking said researchers hoped the alert would triple testing rates among the high risk 16 to 24-year-old group, and prove an easy, cost-effective method of detecting the largely symptom-free but potentially debilitating infection.

“Up to 85 per cent of people with chlamydia do not have any symptoms but it is a leading cause of pelvic inflammatory disease and tubal infertility in women,’’ she said.

“The tragedy is that many of these complications could be avoided with a simple urine test and single dose of antibiotics.’’

Dr Hocking, who produced Australia’s first statistics on the prevalence of chlamydia in the community, said women aged 16 to 24 were at greatest risk.

“Women aged 16 to 24 account for almost two-thirds of the 21,000 chlamydia cases reported in Australia every year among women, but less than 7 per cent of women in this age group are tested,’’ she said.

“In Victoria 3.7 per cent of sexually active women aged 16 to 24 have chlamydia and the rate of infection increases with an increasing number of sexual partners.

“Among those who have three or more partners in a year, the rate is 14.3 per cent.

“As about 12 per cent of the women in this age group reported having three or more partners in a year, this suggests there are a considerable number of undiagnosed infections in the community.’’

The chlamydia computer alert trial is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and will be run in partnership by the University of Melbourne, Burnet Institute and Melbourne Sexual Health Centre.

Dr Hocking said researchers hoped that the trial could become a model for a future national chlamydia screening program.

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