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Experts advise testing teens twice yearly for chlamydia

Chlamydia August 11, 1998
Web posted at: 10:26 p.m. EDT (0226 GMT)

From CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A new study is prompting health experts to call for more frequent tests to screen sexually active teenagers for chlamydia, a lesser-known sexually transmitted disease.

In the latest Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported on a study of more than 3,000 sexually active females in Baltimore, Maryland.

"Twenty percent of all the tests done in girls between the ages of 12 and 19 were positive for chlamydia," said Dr. Gale Burstein, an adolescent medicine specialist. "Also, 30 percent of the girls had at least one positive chlamydia test in the study."

The higher-than-expected rate of chlamydia infections in just one inner city prompted the authors of the study to recommend doubling the frequency of chlamydia screenings to twice a year.

"We're recommending screening all sexually active adolescent females for chlamydia infection, regardless of symptoms, partners, any kind of condom use, or prior STDs (sexually transmitted diseases)," Burstein said.

'The silent disease' can become serious

Experts say many teens may not know chlamydia infections are common and potentially dangerous.

"They know that it's a sexually transmitted disease; they do know that," said nurse practitioner Sunny Saunders. "But they don't understand more than that."

Chlamydia has been called "the silent disease" because most people don't realize they have it, or their symptoms are so mild, they don't realize an infection is present.

But the infection can become serious, with life-threatening consequences.

"The infection can ascend into the pelvis and cause pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, then following that can be ectopic pregnancy and infertility," Burstein said.

The twice-yearly screening for chlamydia raises questions about cost. But health officials say compared to the cost of hospitalization for pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, it's an investment that is well worth the price.

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