- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 16, 2005

Some 32 million cases of gonorrhea were averted in the last three decades, thanks in part to government-funded prevention efforts, federal researchers said last week.

This shows that sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention efforts are “effective and economically sound strategies” for improving the nation’s health, said Dr. John M. Douglas Jr., director of the STD prevention programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC research, released last week at a conference in the Netherlands, examined the impact of federal funding of STD prevention programs through state and local health departments. Researchers estimated that prevention programs resulted in 32 million fewer cases of gonorrhea between 1971 and 2003.

They also estimated that $5 billion in direct medical costs was saved because of reductions in cases of gonorrhea and syphilis between 1990 and 2003.

At last week’s conference, the CDC released new information about chlamydia, the United States’ most commonly reported STD with 877,478 cases reported in 2003. About 2.2 percent of the adult population, ages 14-39, has chlamydia, the CDC said.

In general, men and women have about the same rates of infection. However, when specific age groups and other characteristics are examined, young women, low-income youths and blacks have a high prevalence of chlamydia.

Chlamydia can be transmitted via vaginal, oral and anal sex. It is curable with antibiotics; however, it doesn’t cause any symptoms in about three-quarters of infected women and about half of infected men. Left untreated, chlamydia damages and scars reproductive organs and can cause infertility and other severe reproductive problems in women. It can also infect the rectum and throat if contracted in those areas.

The CDC advises teens to practice sexual abstinence as the “only 100 percent effective method of STD prevention.” It also recommends annual chlamydia screenings for all sexually active women under 25.

Studies have shown that proper condom use reduces the risk of chlamydia by about half, says the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, Texas.

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers said last month they believe many young adults would use a free or low-cost chlamydia home test kit, especially if it were available online.

Last year, 1,100 free kits were distributed to young women around Baltimore. Some 400 samples were returned for testing, with confidential results given by telephone. Of the 10 percent of women who tested positive, 95 percent sought treatment, the researchers said.

The Miami Herald this month reported that local doctors are seeing cases of a rare chlamydia that first appeared in Europe two years ago. The new chlamydia, mostly found in homosexual or bisexual men, can cause scarring of the lower digestive tract, long-term abdominal pain and increase the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission.

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