Known chlamydia cases 'just the tip of the iceberg'
A staggering 200,000 young people in Europe are expected to become infected with chlamydia in the summer months, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The ECDC, which has just issued guidelines, recommends the setting up of screening programmes and routine testing and stresses the importance of partner notification in cases of sexually transmitted diseases.
"National screening programmes are absolutely imperative," Genitourinary Clinic head Philip Carabot said.
The GU Clinic identified 512 cases of chlamydia, a mostly symptom-less infection, between 2000 and last month. Chlamydia is a common sexually-transmitted disease caused by the bacterium, which can damage a woman's reproductive organs.
And this was just the tip of the iceberg, Dr Carabot said. The figures were just in relation to people he saw at the clinic and could not be extrapolated to what was happening in the entire country. The real picture could not be known before national prevalence studies were carried out.
"I'm pretty sure it's more common than we think. Chlamydia is extremely common and can be completely asymptomatic in up to 80 per cent of affected females but can cause serious complications," Dr Carabot said.
Even though symptoms are usually mild or absent, if left undetected complications include pelvic inflammatory disease, a blockage of the fallopian tubes and infertility in both men and women. It could also lead to pre-term pregnancies and eye complications in babies.
However, this was an easily treatable infection and responsive to two antibiotics. Although the body could get rid of the infection on its own, Dr Carabot said this was no reason to be complacent and he highlighted the need for regular check-ups.
On Tuesday, ECDC director Zsuzsanna Jakab said chlamydia could severely affect the fertility of young women and their possibility to have children. "Given the high levels of infection being reported across the EU, and the likelihood that many cases are being left undetected, this could impact significantly on public health in the future," she said.