Do you have a new lover in your life? Getting vague low abdominal pains and your doctor doesn't know why? Does it hurt when you urinate but your urine cultures always come back negative? Do you have a pelvic infection that doesn't clear up with the usual antibiotics?
You may have chlamydia (pronounced kluh mid-DEE-uh) the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. and Canada.
"Sure", says Dr. Philip Hall, Professor and Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, "AIDS is a lethal and devastating disease, but undiagnosed chlamydia can cause terrible damage. Yet all the publicity goes to the human immune virus."
Dr. Hall represents a group of concerned physicians who say that the chlamydia problem remains unacknowledged and unrecognized by patients and health care professionals alike, obscured by the undeserved degree of panic about AIDS. "The good news," says Dr. Hall, "is that chlamydia is simple to test for and easy to cure."
Chlamydia A Serious Problem
Every year in Canada an estimated half a million women will become infected with chlamydia, yet 60 percent of them will have no symptoms. In the U.S, in one year, at least four million women will be infected with chlamydia, and the disease is probably more prevalent than that because if is often missed and often under reported.
"It's an insidious disease and the leading cause of sterility in women," says Dr. William Bowie, faculty member of the UBC Division of Infectious Diseases and a leading chlamydia researcher in Canada.
For over ten years Dr. Bowie has been attempting to get doctors and health officials across Canada to pay attention to this important infection. Fortunately, chlamydia testing is now available in most doctors' offices, and physicians are starting to realize how prevalent chlamydial infection is.
Chlamydia may travel up into the womb and tubes causing scarring and even permanent closure. Some experts estimate that chlamydia causes 50 percent of pelvic infections and 25 percent of tubal pregnancies.
What Is Chlamydia ?
Chlamydia is neither a typical bacteria nor a virus. It is very small, much like a virus in size. It has some characteristics of a bacteria but it cannot manufacture its own energy. It therefore acts like a parasite, entering cells and using their energy. It starts off as little contagious particles (called elementary bodies or EB's) which attach to the cell and then duplicate inside the cell. Within 72 hours a whole bunch of EB's are then expelled from the cell, and the cycle continues.
Unfortunately, chlamydia can persist for a long time unsuspected and produce low grade inflammation. As Dr. Bowie explains, "Chlamydia is well adapted to infect women but not make them sufficiently sick that they are aware of the problem. Yet unrecognized chlamydia infection can make women sterile. The burden falls most heavily on young women."
Besides frequently not producing any symptoms, chlamydia is very difficult to culture. These two factors make it very challenging to track chlamydia down.
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