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Gonorrhea, Chlamydia Go Untreated in Young Adults

A study published in today’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that large numbers of young adults in the U.S. may be infected with gonorrhea or chlamydia but are not being diagnosed or treated. Researchers interviewed men and women aged 18 to 35 in Baltimore, MD and then tested these adults for gonorrhea and chlamydia. Based on the number of participants who tested positive but were not being treated, researchers estimated that the number of untreated infections in this population may be greater than treated ones. The study authors called on the public health community for better strategies to combat the high prevalence of undiagnosed infections. Dr. J. Dennis Fortenberry of the Indiana University School of Medicine, also called for changes in social response to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). “Societal willingness to stigmatize sexuality and STDs continues to hide issues that are central to aspects of our lives,” said Fortenberry. “Given the morbidity and costs of STDsÉthese are veils that no longer seem affordable.”

Eighty percent of women infected with gonorrhea or chlamydia are asymptomatic. When symptoms do occur, however, many women experience burning urination, unusual vaginal discharge, or tenderness of the vulva. Some women infected with chlamydia may also have unusual vaginal bleeding. If left untreated, gonorrhea or chlamydia often lead to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or ectopic pregnancy. Pregnant women infected with gonorrhea may also experience premature labor or stillbirth. Both gonorrhea and chlamydia can be diagnosed using tissue samples and are fully treatable. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

According to Feminist Majority Foundation Medical Director Beth Jordan, MD, all women should make sure that during their annual exams they specifically ask to be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia. A woman should also consider getting this painless test if she has a new partner and is having unprotected sex.

Sources:

Reuters Health, 2/12/02; Journal of the American Medical Association 2002;287: 726-733; Planned Parenthood

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