‘Epidemic’ going unnoticed

Chlamydia is: (a) a flower; (b) a spermicidal agent used in condoms; (c) the most common sexually transmitted disease; (d) a recent heavy loser in the stock market.

Those who correctly answered (c) know more about chlamydia than the majority of the population. Few people even have heard of it although it affects 3 to 4 million Americans every year. It strikes nearly one in every 10 college females and is twice as common as gonorrhea among American males.

Chlamydia infections are caused by a bacteria which is usually spread from one person to another by sexual contact or at birth (from mother to baby). The primary reason that chlamydia is so common is that 80 percent of the females with chlamydia—as well as some males—have no symptoms or only vague symptoms which are ignored.

For that reason, chlamydia has been referred to as “the silent edipemic”; the infection progresses so slowly without symptoms that the individual never suspects a problem.

It is frequently the case that a woman first learns she has chlamydia when years after the initial infection she tries to get pregnant and discovers she is unable to because the infection has damaged her fallopian tubes, causing sterility.

Untreated chlamydia also causes sterility in men, although with less frequency. Women are also at risk for chlamydia-caused pelvic inflammatory disease and have an increased likelihood of ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo develops in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus—a condition that causes 10 percent of maternal deaths). Babies born to mothers who have chlamydia are at risk for pneumonia and eye infections. Compounding these problems are individuals with untreated chlamydia, who continue to infect (and reinfect) those with whom they are sexually active.

Between 70 and 80 percent of men with chlamydia have one or more of the following symptoms: a discharge from the penis; burning urination; a warm, tender, or swollen scrotum; or anal inflammation (the latter symptom occuring in homosexual men). Women who do have symptoms may have: an abnormal vaginal discharge, burning or frequent urination, and/or lower abdominal pain with or without a fever.

Chlamydia can be easily diagnosed by a special test (available free at the University Health Service) and is readily treated by antibiotics. It is important that all prescribed medicine be taken; otherwise, more persistent strains of the infection can result.

Since all men and women who engage in intimate sexual contact are at risk for contracting chlamydia, the following precautions are recommended to minimize the chance of infection:

.Minimal risk of infection occurs from a long-term, mutually monogamous sexual relationship.

.Casual sex (deliberate, frequent or opportunistic oral, genital or anal contact with “unknown” partners) is extremely dangerous and offers maximum risk of infection. Unknown but readily available partners must be assumed to have been equally and similarly available to a network of previous and unknown partners.

.Sexual contact with anyone other than a regular, exclusive partner should include the use of a condom. Condoms are available at the UHS Pharmacy in quantities of four for a dollar. (The pharmacy’s hours are 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.) The contraceptive diaphragm also offers some protection, but it is not as effective as condoms.

.Know your sexual partner and ask about his or her sexual health. Delay intercourse with a new partner until you feel satisfied that his or her sexual and health histories do not place either of you at risk.