September 8, 2005
Infecting some 3 million patients each year, chlamydia is the most commonly reported bacterial STD in the United States. Though it can easily be cured with antibiotics, chlamydia often goes undetected because many people do not have symptoms of the infection.
In 2004 in Kentucky, 6,470 chlamydia cases were reported, compared with 7,981 in 2003. However, the state has already recorded 5,887 cases to date this year, and the projected number of cases for 2005 is 7,900 or more, according to the Kentucky Health and Family Services Cabinet. In the Louisville area, the Metro Health Department reported 1,758 cases in 2004, down from 2,084 cases in 2003.
Dr. Marilyn A. Maxwell, professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at St. Louis University, said awareness of chlamydia varies. "More and more people, particularly young people in their sex-education classes, are learning about it, but it is surprising how many people aren't familiar with chlamydia," said Maxwell. "You may have it, you may pass it on and not know that you have it."
Young people are especially vulnerable, say experts. In the first nationally representative study of chlamydia prevalence, CDC researchers found that nearly one in 20 women ages 14-19 were infected with the disease. Among men, 20- to 29-year-olds were most affected, CDC found. But the incidence of chlamydia drops off dramatically after age 30, said Dr. Stanely Gall, a University of Louisville professor who specializes in women's health, gynecology and obstetrics. If a sexually active woman under 25 has not had an annual screening, she should ask to have it done, he said.
Teenage girls are at increased risk for chlamydia and other STDs "just because of the way they're made," explained Maxwell. "The cervix has a lining of cells that changes position as they get older, so a 15-year-old or a 16-year-old exposed to chlamydia is much more likely to get it than a 26- or 36- or 46-year-old woman," she said.