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U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Calls for Chlamydia Screening

(April 17, 2001):  In its first set of recommendations, the third US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that primary care clinicians screen all sexually active women ages 25 and younger, as well as older women at increased risk for chlamydia, as part of regular health care visits. 

"So many of our health problems can be avoided through healthy lifestyles and preventive health care," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "These screening recommendations are an important step in our efforts to improve the quality of health care and quality of life for all Americans."

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted bacterial disease in the United States, with an estimated 3 million new cases each year. Most women have no symptoms when initially infected, but if not treated, can develop pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility and other serious health problems, including increased risk of HIV infection. Although chlamydia is most common in women 25 and younger, older women can also be at risk for chlamydia if they have new or multiple sexual partners, have had a sexually transmitted disease in the past, or do not use condoms consistently and correctly. The good news is that a screening test is available, and treatment with antibiotics is easy, inexpensive, and effective.

The bad news is that most women at risk are not being screened. According to a survey of 546 doctors reported in the March 2001 Journal of Adolescent Health, only 32 percent said they would screen an asymptomatic sexually active teenage girl for chlamydia as part of a routine gynecologic examination. A 1997 study of four major US health plans indicated that only 2 percent to 42 percent of sexually active females aged 15 to 25 years had been screened for chlamydia. 

The USPSTF, a panel of independent, private-sector experts in prevention and primary care, made its recommendation after concluding that there is good scientific evidence that routine screening and treatment could reduce serious consequences of chlamydia in women.

The Task Force did not make any recommendations about screening asymptomatic women over 26, unless they were at increased risk, or men of any age.  For more information about the USPSTF recommendations, go to www.ahrq.gov/clinic/prevenix.htm.  For more information on chlamydia, click here

Created: 4/16/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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