A survey by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that only 38% of sexually active young women ages 15 to 25 were screened for chlamydia, a common sexually transmitted disease, in the previous year. The CDC recommends annual screening for all sexually active women 25 years old and younger.
Chlamydia often doesn't cause symptoms and can go undiagnosed for a long time unless detected through routine screening. When caught early, it is easily treated with antibiotics, but a chlamydia infection that goes untreated can result in serious long-term problems, especially in women. Complications can include chronic pelvic pain, infertility and ectopic pregnancies, which are sometimes fatal.
"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 Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.
For the study, which was presented at the 2012 National STD Prevention Conference, CDC researchers reviewed self-reported data on chlamydia testing among young women ages 15 to 25 from the 2006-2008 cycle of the National Survey of Family Growth, a national household survey. Although researchers were encouraged that testing was most common among high-risk groups such as African-American women, those who had multiple sexual partners, and young women who were uninsured or received public insurance, they said overall, the rate of testing was low. More needs to be done to raise awareness and screening rates for all sexually active women in this age group.
Although the CDC recommends that anyone diagnosed with chlamydia be retested three months after starting treatment, another study presented at the same conference found that retesting rates for chlamydia are low and many reinfections with the disease are probably being missed. For this study, data on more than 60,000 men and women who tested positive for chlamydia between 2007 and 2009 at facilities participating in the CDC's Infertility Prevention Project in New York, New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands were examined. Analysts found that only 14% of men and only 22% of women were retested within 30 to 180 days of starting treatment. Of those who were retested, 25% of men and 16% of women tested positive again.
It is critical that health care providers recognize the importance of testing sexually active young women for chlamydia infections on an annual basis and also retesting anyone who is diagnosed with the infection. It is equally critical for other health and community professionals to remind young women who are sexually active to get screened every year. That reminder should include information on the need to be retested for chlamydia if it is detected and to follow through on treatment.
Screening tests can be performed on a sample of cells or secretions collected from the genital area or on a urine sample. Women should talk their doctors about getting tested. Community health clinics usually offer the tests for free. Individuals can find a community health clinic by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or by entering their zip code here: http://www.hivtest.org/STDTesting.aspx.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Estimate Shows Not Enough Young Women Tested for Chlamydia. Press Release. March 13, 2012. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/stdconference2012pressrelease.html through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed May 2012.
National STD Prevention Conference. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/stdconference/ through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed May 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Summaries of Highlighted Research. STD Prevention Conference 2012. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/stdconference2012summaries.html through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed May 2012.
National Chlamydia Coalition. Available online at http://ncc.prevent.org/public.aspx through http://ncc.prevent.org. Accessed May 2012.
The Chlamydia Resource Exchange. Available online at http://www.acog.org/About_ACOG/ACOG_Departments/Adolescent_Health_Care/The_Chlamydia_Resource_Exchange through http://www.acog.org. Accessed May 2012.
Healthfinder.gov. Get Tested for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis. Available online at http://healthfinder.gov/prevention/ViewTopic.aspx?topicID=32&cnt=1&areaID=5 through http://healthfinder.gov. Accessed May 2012.
ACOG. Chlamydia Screening Rates Too Low, Reinfection Rates Too High. March 26, 2012. Available online at http://www.acog.org/About_ACOG/News_Room/News_Releases/2012/Chlamydia_Screening_Rates_Too_Low through http://www.acog.org. Accessed May 2012.