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Chlamydia report has good news, bad news for Az
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Chlamydia report has good news, bad news for Az

PHOENIX – A national survey suggests that more young women in Arizona are getting tested for the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia, but data for the latest year available showed that fewer than half of those in this group were tested.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s especially important for sexually active women age 25 and younger to be tested annually because a young woman’s cervix isn’t fully matured and may be more susceptible to infection.

Chlamydia, the most commonly reported bacterial STD in the United States, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, potentially fatal pregnancy complications and infertility in women.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance, a not-for-profit organization that promotes quality health care, gathered the testing data from a survey of commercial and Medicaid health care plans. It found that 43 percent of sexually active women in Arizona between the ages of 16 and 25 were tested for chlamydia in 2008, up from 27 percent in 2000.

Cara Christ, bureau chief of epidemiology at the Arizona Department of Health Services, said STD testing rates in general have improved because of public education. That includes a 15-year-old collaboration between MTV and the Kaiser Family Foundation that launched its latest campaign, Get Yourself Tested, in 2009.

Thomas Schryer, Pinal County’s public health director, said chlamydia testing rates remain low because symptoms are relatively mild or even non-existent.

“Especially when you start talking about younger folks, who tend to be less knowledgeable about what’s normal because there are a lot of changes going on in their bodies,” he said.

Symptoms usually appear between one and three weeks after infection. Women can develop abnormal vaginal discharge and burning during urination. If the infection spreads from the cervix to the fallopian tubes, symptoms may include abdominal and lower back pain, nausea, fever, pain during sex or bleeding between periods.

Chlamydia is treated and cured with antibiotics.

Tom Mickey, STD program manager for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the new chlamydia cases reported each year are among those ages 15 to 25.

“I think it’s a question of sexual activity,” he said. “The older you are, the more likely you are to be in a monogamous relationship or just having sex with one person.”

Carol Bafaloukos, director of clinical care and practice standards for Planned Parenthood Arizona, said poor sex education in schools contributes to the rate of testing for chlamydia.

“In Arizona, there is only funding for abstinence-only sex education,” she said. “The only form of birth control that is discussed is condoms, and when condoms are discussed the focus is on their failure rate. So the one tool that can prevent STD contraction isn’t even talked about in a positive light.”

Bafaloukos said that young women often are uneasy talking about their sex lives.

“Young women will come in to one of our clinics and they’ll ask, ‘If I use my parents’ insurance, will my parents find out?’” she said.

Nikki Mayes, a health communications specialist with the CDC, said all health care providers need to be taught that every sexually active young woman should be screened for chlamydia each year.

“We must also make sure that providers have the skills they need to successfully implement screening,” she said in an email. “For example, tools and training to feel more comfortable taking a young patient’s sexual history.”

Chlamydia facts

  • An estimated 2.8 million infections occur annually in the United States, making chlamydia the country’s most frequently reported bacterial STD.
  • Symptoms include abnormal vaginal discharge, burning while urinating, abdominal and lower back pain, nausea, fever, pain during sex and bleeding between periods.
  • Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pelvic pain, potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus) and infertility.
  • Can increase the likelihood of contracting HIV if exposed.
  • Treated and cured with antibiotics.

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