According to new figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not many young, sexually active women in the United States are getting screened for chlamydia.
The results show 38 percent of sexually active women ages 15 to 25 said they had been screened for chlamydia within the previous year. The CDC recommends annual screening for all sexually active women ages 25 and under. “This new research makes it clear that we are missing too many opportunities to protect young women from health consequences that can last a lifetime,” said study researcher Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. “Annual chlamydia screening can protect young women’s reproductive health now and safeguard it for the future,” Fenton said.
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease in the United States, and young people are most affected. Because people often do not have symptoms, infections go undetected and untreated. Without treatment, the Chlamydia infection can spread into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease. The uterus and surrounding tissues can also become affected resulting in chronic pain, infertility and potentially fatal ectopic pregnancies. Men can contract chlamydia too — one in four show no symptoms while the others may experience symptoms similar to gonorrhea, including burning feeling while urinating, discharge and pain. Condoms, if used properly, can help prevent infection between partners.
For this study the CDC analyzed data on chlamydia testing among teenage girls and young women in the United States from 2006 to 2008. Overall testing rates remain low, although testing was most common among African-American women, those who had multiple sex partners, and those who received public insurance or were uninsured. This is encouraging because these are some of the groups at highest risk for chlamydia, the researchers said.
“Testing rates are far too low across the board,” says Karen Hoover, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC. “First and foremost, we have to do more to ensure health care providers know sexually active women should be screened every year.” The good news, Hoover says, is that nearly half of women with multiple sexual partners, who are most likely to be exposed to the disease, get tested annually. The disease can be easily treated with antibiotics, she says.
The CDC recommends that anyone diagnosed with chlamydia be retested three months after treatment, to ensure that those who have become re-infected can be promptly treated with antibiotics.
Among women who were treated for chlamydia, less than a quarter were retested within six months as the CDC recommends. About 16 percent of women are expected to be reinfected in that time frame. “Re-infection is common because of untreated infection in their partners,” says Kelly Opdyke, who studied retesting rates for the CDC. “A substantial number of reinfections may be missed.” The study found that retesting rates remain low - just 11 percent of men and 21 percent of women in the study were retested within 30 to 180 days of initially testing positive.
Both studies were presented at this week at the National STD Prevention Conference in Minneapolis.