By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
It’s hard to get treated if you don’t know you’re sick. That’s the problem for three fourths of the women and one half of the men who have chlamydia. The sexually-transmitted bacterial infection they carry – chlamydia trachomatis – often brings with it no symptoms.
Diagnoses of chlamydia trachomatis in the United Kingdom have increased 66 percent in the past five years according to a February 2006 Nursing Standard article. While rates of this sexually transmitted infection are admittedly on the rise in developed nations, the Nursing Standard attributes the dramatic 66 percent increase in known cases of chlamydia to improved screening and diagnosis.
Lack of Diagnosis Exacerbates the Epidemic
Those of us across the moat – where chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease – are green with envy. Chlamydia is also of epidemic proportions in the United States, and the Clinical Advisor reported in its March 2006 issue that more than 2.8 million cases occur annually mainly among those aged 15 to 24.
| Tips from the CDC: Play it Safe When It Comes to Chlamydia |
Chlamydia can be easily treated and cured with antibiotics. If you suspect there’s a chance you could have the disease, see your physician. Laboratory tests performed on urine and/or on specimens from the cervix or penis can diagnose chlamydia.
Avoid sexual intercourse with partners who have not completed treatment for chlamydia because it is possible to get re-infected after a person has been diagnosed and begun treatment.
The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia is to abstain from sexual contact or be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship.
Latex male condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of transmission of chlamydia.
Chlamydia screening is recommended annually for all sexually active women 25 years of age and younger.
An annual screening test is also recommended for older women with risk factors for chlamydia – a new sex partner or multiple sex partners.
All pregnant women should have a screening test for chlamydia.
But there’s a problem affirmed the Clinical Advisor, “Most chlamydial infections are asymptomatic, with up to 75 percent of females and 50 percent of males exhibiting no symptoms. As such, most cases remain undiagnosed.”
Those infected might not know they have a problem, but can’t we count on the medical community to intervene? Why do patients with chlamydia who visit the doctor for another matter manage to get out of the office under the physician’s radar screen?
According to David S. Reitman, M.D., who penned an article for the March 2006 issue of Consultant for Pediatricians, it’s because high percentages of physicians aren’t up to date with how chlamydia presents itself.
“When most physicians consider gonorrhea or chlamydia infection painful or purulent urethritis or cervicitis comes to mind. Many clinicians believe that if their patient has no pain, dysuria, or genital discharge then a pelvic examination or a male urethral swab is unnecessary,” wrote Reitman. “This misconception has contributed to the current epidemic of gonorrhea and chlamydia infection.” Reitman recommends annual pelvic examinations to screen young women and similar inspections on young men who are sexually active.
Chlamydia – A Case of Class?
It’s one thing to catch a sexually transmitted disease, but the embarrassment of it can multiply when a person learns that genital infections are related to “new sexual partners, pregnancy, homelessness and being from an economically-disadvantaged background.”
True, there’s no shame in being pregnant and possibly not even in having a new sexual partner – if the relationship is stable. The latter two characterizations that are identified by Reitman, however, are enough give a person some pause.
The world of chlamydia is not pretty, but it’s here.
A Case of Too Much Television?
“Could be,” says a supplemental report published by the journal Pediatrics in July 2005. In fact, Jane E. Brody of The New York Times, who analyzed the report on adolescents and TV in January 2006 stated that it “was requested by Congress and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and the University of Texas Health and Science Center in Houston” in an effort to explore the rise of teen sexual activity and its often unfortunate consequences.
In her analysis Brody explores the seamy, sleazy side of life thousands are privy to by simply flicking the switch of the family television, the computer, or the DVD player. In her article, Brody provided the alarming account of a 2005 summer blockbuster. “A prize-winning R-rated film: ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know,’ [in which] a barely pubescent boy is seduced into oral sex by two girls perhaps a year older, and his 6-year-old brother logs on to a pornographic chat room and solicits a grown woman with instant message about ‘poop.’”
Even off the Internet, the news is distressing. Brody sites a Kaiser Family Foundation study that found “the shows most watched by adolescents in 2001-2002 had ‘unusually high’ amounts of sexual content compared with TV as a whole: 83 percent of programs popular with teens had sexual content, and 20 percent contained explicit or implicit intercourse.”
Symptoms of Chlamydia
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “chlamydia is known as a ‘silent’ disease because such overwhelming numbers of people infected are unaware of the problem.”
When symptoms do occur it’s generally within the first three weeks of exposure. Both men and women can experience discharge and burning with urination. Further, when the infection spreads from the cervix to the fallopian tubes women can experience lower abdominal pain, lower back pain, nausea, fever, pain during intercourse, or bleeding between menstrual periods. The CDC also states that “chlamydial infection of the cervix can spread to the rectum.”
That’s not the only way people can acquire chlamydial infection of the rectum, though. Both women and men who have what the CDC calls “receptive anal intercourse” can become infected in this region. Similarly, “chlamydia can also be found in the throats of women and men having oral sex with an infected partner.”
In short chlamydia can be transmitted during vaginal, anal or oral sex, and those who have multiple partners or new partners are at risk.
Chlamydia can be passed from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal childbirth, and according to the CDC, the disease is “a leading cause of early infant pneumonia and conjunctivitis or pink eye in newborns.”
Further, “if untreated, chlamydia infections can progress to serious reproductive and other health problems with both short-term and long-term consequences. Like the disease itself, the damage that chlamydia causes is often ‘silent.’”
Up to 40 percent of women with untreated chlamydia experience pelvic inflammatory disease, a condition that can cause permanent damage to the female reproductive organs which leads to chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy or pregnancy outside the uterus. Additionally states the CDC, “women infected with chlamydia are up to five times more likely to become infected with HIV, if exposed.”
Chlamydia is obviously a serious problem. We hope with the straight talk from Uterus1 that readers are sufficiently armed to protect themselves. Indeed, if there’s any message from the pundits it’s that turning and looking the other way just makes for more misery. Besides, when antibiotics can easily treat the problem, there’s no reason not to head to the physician’s office.