Health: Infertility: Why You Are at Risk; According to New Government Research, a Sexually Transmitted Disease That Can Make You Infertile Is Nearing Epidemic Levels among Young Women in the UK. the Disease Is Chlamydia and in Most Cases There Are No Symptoms. Ruth Rosselson Reports on the Rising Demand for Automatic Screenings for This Invisible Enemy
Rosselson, Ruth, The Mirror (London, England)
Every year the figures get worse. In parts of Britain, chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease which can wreck your chance of having a baby, is now carried by up to 15% of women under 25.
This frightening figure comes from preliminary results of two pilot screening programmes on all under 25-year-old women visiting their GPs in the Wirral and Portsmouth. The tests were begun in September last year and are due to end next month. Final figures won't be released until September, but initial findings double the estimates made in previous years, which averaged between 7% and 10%.
Juliet Hillier, marketing manager for the sex advice clinic, Brook Advisory Service, says, `Because they are pilots, we have to treat them with caution, but we do also need to be very concerned.' The real figures could be even higher according to Julie Douglas from the Marie Stopes sexual health clinics. `It's quite shocking. No one knows the true figures, it's just so difficult to tell. We need national screenings - people just don't realise they are at risk.'
Why do we need to be offered automatic chlamydia tests?
Chlamydia often does not show any symptoms, meaning that people don't know they have it. It can lie undetected for a long time, increasing the risk of long-term fertility problems.
Although tests are offered to people attending clinics as part of a general sexual health check, there isn't a national screening programme similar to the smear test for cervical cancer.
At Marie Stopes, a chlamydia test is offered to every woman coming in for an abortion because, following surgery, there's more risk of the chlamydia developing into pelvic inflammatory disease - a condition that often develops from untreated chlamydia and can cause infertility. Julie Douglas believes everyone who is entitled to either a yearly or three-yearly cervical smear should be offered a chlamydia test at the same time.
How likely is it that national automatic screenings will be introduced?
The initial results from the Wirral and Portsmouth programmes make this more likely, according to Dr Simon Barton, clinical director of HIV/Genitourinary Medicine Services at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. He says, `It's imperative we have a national screening programme.'
Diane Lea from the Family Planning Authority agrees, `Better education, better information and a comprehensive screening programme will go a long way to preventing chlamydia.' Many other practitioners think so too - a survey of more than 500 medical professionals by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) reveals chlamydia is seen as the third most important priority for the NHS, after HIV/Aids and meningitis.
Dr Diana Walford, director of the PHLS, says, `The survey is an important tool for deciding priorities and allocating resources.'
The Department of Health (DoH) won't yet confirm that a screening programme will go ahead.
A spokesperson for the sexual health team at the DoH told M, `The figures are a cause for great concern. There have been studies in other countries showing that chlamydia screening reduces infection, but we don't know if it will work in the UK. That's what the pilots are for, to tell us whether or not screening will be feasible, but we won't know that until assessed results are in.'
Why are chlamydia levels so high?
`I think they're finding such high numbers in young women because more sexual partners increases the risk,' says Julie Douglas. `Also, I believe a lot of young women don't know about chlamydia and that people aren't using condoms as much as they should. …