Genital-only Screening Misses Many Cases of Gonorrhea and Chlamydia in Women

A new Johns Hopkins Medicine study that looked at over 10,000 people who attended an STI clinic in Baltimore has found that the occurrence of gonorrhea or chlamydia in extragenital areas like the throat or rectum is significant in women, particularly younger women.

If the women examined in this study had only received genital STI tests -- as is the standard recommendation -- nearly 14 percent of chlamydia infections and more than 30 percent of gonorrhea infections would have been missed.

"Gonorrhea and chlamydia are treatable infections, but we can only treat the cases we know about," says Khalil Ghanem, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine and corresponding author of this study. "If we want to effectively control the spread of these two diseases, we need to ensure that testing guidelines are as rigorous as possible."

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are common bacterial infections that are generally not fatal but can cause serious short- and long-term health problems if left untreated. Both conditions can be effectively managed with antibiotics, though as with other bacteria, some antibiotic resistance can occur.

"However, when these infections occur in extragenital areas, they are typically asymptomatic," notes Joshua Trebach, a third-year student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who undertook this surveillance project along with Ghanem. "These types of infections pose a large and hidden public health threat, because they can be transmitted to unwitting sexual partners and form an active infection."

While this analysis was focused on sexual health clinics, the authors believe it could have broader implications, as doctors in other areas like emergency medicine often encounter women complaining of pain or irritation that may be connected with an STI.

The big takeaway is that you should be sure to get a full exam to ensure early detection of gonorrhea or chlamydia.

Credit: Medical News Today