Back in 1993, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all sexually active women under age 26 be screened annually for chlamydia. Apparently, it isn't happening.
Just-released data from the federal agency reveal that more than 1 million new cases of chlamydia were diagnosed in 2006—a record. "If we're going to combat this," said John M. Douglas Jr., director of the CDC's division of sexually transmitted disease prevention, in a teleconference on the report, doctors and young women must "understand the importance of routine screening every year." Women of any age who have a new partner, multiple partners, or vaginal discharge should seek screening. Pregnant women should also be tested, the CDC suggests. The screen is a simple matter of a urine test, without a pelvic examination or even necessarily a trip to the gynecologist.
Experts say that some physicians may not screen for chlamydia because they believe that STD prevalence is low in their practices. But women should ask for the test if it isn't offered to them, according to Douglas. About three quarters of infected women and about half of infected men don't have symptoms. (Screening recommendations currently don't include men, since the potential benefits aren't known.)
Though symptoms may be nonexistent, untreated chlamydia can cause infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and pelvic inflammatory disease. And it makes women up to five times as likely to contract HIV if exposed as noninfected women. Chlamydia can also cause penile discharge in men, as well as rare but serious complications such as urethritis and epididymitis, an infection of the epididymis, a tube that carries sperm. According to one study cited by the CDC, screening and treatment may reduce the incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease by more than 50 percent. And they're critical to preventing associated infertility, the report says.