Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, yet people tend to know less about it than syphilis and gonorrhoea. While men can also contract chlamydia, women are more likely to suffer severe health consequences as a result of the infection. Untreated, chlamydia may spread into the womb and fallopian tubes, leading to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Preliminary evidence has linked chlamydia infection with increased cervical cancer risk. Infection with chlamydia may also increase the risk of being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But many doctors who treat sexually active young women are not screening for the disease.
From 2% to 20% of US women aged 15 to 24 have chlamydia, making it one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. If left untreated, 20% to 40% of women with chlamydia will go on to develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause infertility and chronic pelvic pain. The infection often goes undetected, because most women with chlamydia have no symptoms. Two out of three primary care physicians surveyed did not screen sexually active teenage women for chlamydia.
Britain, in common with other western countries, is undergoing a chlamydia epidemic. According to the Public Health Laboratory Service, the number of diagnosed infections has soared by 76% since 1995. There was a 14% increase in infections between 1998 and 1999. Infection rates in 1999 were highest in London, where they reached 155 per 100,000 men and 184 per 100,000 women. Doctors believe the number of known infections represent only about 10% of all cases. Approximately 70% of women infected with chlamydia have no symptoms until more serious consequences arise. Over 50% of women with PID have had chlamydia, the sexually transmitted disease most likely to cause tubal damage. The 21-25-year age group is at the highest risk of contracting the disease. A 1993 UK report found only 7% of the 1,600 people surveyed had heard of chlamydia.
On-going chlamydia infection may influence an individual's ability to fight off human papillomavirus (HPV) infection which causes cervical cancer.