Dirty Weekend: Facts and the Figures Behind the Rising Incidence of the Silent Infection; Looking after Your Sexual Health Is a Deadly Serious Matter but It's Not Just the Appearance of a Nasty Rash That Should Trigger a Visit to a Clinic for Screening. Emma Pomfret Reports
Byline: Emma Pomfret
A staggering one in ten women and one in eight men under the age of 25 tested positive for chlamydia in a recent study.
Figures show that the overall number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland rose by around four per cent last year - with the upward trend looking set to continue.
Chlamydia - often dubbed the silent infection because it often has no symptoms whatsoever - can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancy in women and is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), with 89,818 cases reported in the UK last year alone.
The disease, which almost tripled between 1995 and 2003, can also cause infertility in both men and women, with the latest research by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) showing that teenage women aged 16 to 19 are 43 per cent more likely to test positive for the infection than women in their early 20s.
In response to the huge rise in the number of cases, a National Chlamydia Screening Programme is currently being rolled out across England, with full coverage expected by 2008.
Free, confidential screening and treatment is offered at traditional venues such as family planning clinics and GP surgeries, as well as colleges and universities where the problem of chlamydia among the student population is a particular concern.
Sexual health campaigners believe that complacency over regular condom use, increased numbers of sexual partners, and long delays at genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinics, may all be helping to fuel the trend.
Some have also blamed the rising rates of STIs in general on the increased availability of emergency contraception, such as the morning-after pill, which they say may encourage young people to be less careful before having sex.
A spokeswoman for the Family Planning Association (fpa) says the results from the HPA came as no real surprise.
'We know there is a high incidence of undiagnosed infection because the majority of people with chlamydia show no symptoms. These figures demonstrate the need to extend the programme and to roll it out faster.
'Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in the UK, so it is important that men and women are aware of the risks of unprotected sex,' she warns.
Chlamydia is one of the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infections and is easily transmitted through sexual activity such as penetrative sex with an infected partner, oral sex - although this is less common - and from a mother to her baby during the birth.
It usually infects the genitals of both men and women, but can also infect the throat, rectum or eyes, although, according to the fpa, 50 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women with chlamydia show no symptoms at all.
Chlamydia can be easily treated with antibiotics but if left untreated, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which can lead to ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy outside the womb), blocked fallopian tubes - which may result in reduced fertility or infertility - long-term pelvic pain, early miscarriage or premature birth. …