New study finds undiagnosed, untreated gonorrhea, chlamydia infections common

CHAPEL HILL Between 1997 and 1998, undiagnosed gonorrhea and chlamydia infections occurred in a combined one in 12, or 7.9 percent, of young adults ages 18 to 35 in Baltimore, a surprisingly high total that approaches or exceeds the number of such infections that were diagnosed and treated there in 1998, researchers found.

Such sexually transmitted diseases, which can cause pain, infertility and death in some cases by promoting transmission of the AIDS virus, may be significantly more prevalent than previously believed, at least in some U.S. areas and populations, the scientists said.

A report on the findings appears in the Feb. 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Authors represent the Research Triangle Institute, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Johns Hopkins University.

We used powerful new DNA-amplification tests that can detect minute quantities of bacteria, said Dr. Charles F. Turner, a principal scientist at RTI and lead author. The bacteria do not need to be alive or plentiful. Thus, it is possible that we are detecting the residue of old untreated infections that are no longer transmissible or clinically significant. Our suspicion is strengthened by the fact that only 2 to 5 percent of infected subjects reported having symptoms during the past six months.

Three percent of the entire sample had untreated chlamydia, and more than 5 percent showed untreated gonorrhea, said Turner, who also is an applied social research professor at the City University of New York. He and his colleagues believe, but have not confirmed, that the new tests allowed them to look back in time and observe infections that were contracted months or years ago and never effectively treated.

Clearly, a better job needs to be done in finding and treating such infections, he said.

Co-authors of the paper include Drs. Susan M. Rogers, Heather G. Miller and James R. Chromy of RTI and Drs. William

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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