Chlamydia - the invisible ailment
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STD), but early detection, diagnosis and treatment is extremely effective, with 90 percent of those affected cleared of the disease within a three year period.
The problem lies in the initial detection. It is believed that up to 50 percent of men and 70 percent of women do not know they have contracted the condition, since it can produce few recognizable signs. Chlamydia symptoms include vaginal bleeding or other secretions and painful urination in women, and in men the penis can become discolored and can also result in a cloudy secretion. These symptoms are not universal and can be easy to dismiss.
The disease left untreated can be spread around sexual partners if a condom is not used during intercourse, and can have serious health implications for both men and women. In women, more than half will develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), an infection of the uterus that may lead to fertility problems and other complications associated with child birth. A common complication which can affect untreated men is epididymitis, a disease causing extreme pain in the scrotum, which itself left untreated can lead to infertility. The onset is slow and difficult to distinguish from testicular torsion.
In addition to the diseases associated with the sex organs and the reproductive system, it can also trigger reactive arthritis, an autoimmune condition (Reiter's syndrome) causing inflammation of the joints, eyes and urethra. Although this can occur in women, it is far more common in young men.
This demonstrates the importance of effective chlamydia testing. In the developed world this can be done simply and cheaply with a local doctor or sexual health clinic by means of a urine or swab test. There are kits available for home testing, although the results can be uneven and it is recommended that a doctor be consulted.
It is not as easy in the developing world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has noted that the diagnosis of STDs such as chlamydia are being missed because of the absence of specific symptoms and a lack of diagnostic kits. In many countries these kits are simply too expensive, and where there are available they tend to be inaccessible for the majority. This can cause problems with lengthy waiting times to receive results, meaning that the condition is left partially or entirely untreated.
When the condition is diagnosed it can easily be treated with a short course of antibiotics (such as erythromycin, which can also be used safely for pregnant women) which have proven effective in clearing the infection.
In 2010 the Center for Disease and Prevention (CDC) in the US reported that despite recommendations that more young, sexually active women be screened for the disease, most women are still left unscreened. In the same report is was noted that there were a reported 1.3 million cases in the US alone. In the United Kingdom a national program for screening is available for anyone under the age of 25 which is both free and confidential.