A national screening campaign for chlamydia has been ruled out because a study has found it would not be cost-effective.
The Chlamydia Screening in Ireland Pilot Study — which was funded by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and supported by the Health Research Board — looked at the feasibility of opportunistic screening in a general practice setting for the sexually transmitted infection.
Opportunistic screening would rely on young people being tested for the STI when visiting a doctor for other reasons.
However, Dr Emer O’Connell, consultant in public health medicine at the HSE said: “In Ireland, due to our small population and the strain already on our health service, a screening programme for chlamydia would not be cost effective because it would be difficult to achieve the necessary coverage levels to reduce the level of infection.”
She said that screening for chlamydia was available in many countries but that some, such as Australia, were now reviewing its effectiveness.
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported bacterial STI in Ireland, with highest numbers reported among 20 to 29 year olds.
Cases of chlamydia increased sixfold from 1,000 in 1997 to about 6,000 between 2008 and 2009.
More often than not, the infection causes no symptoms — especially in women — but can cause serious complications, such as infertility and ectopic pregnancies.
The study’s findings were presented at Ireland’s first Sexual Health Week, officially launched in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin yesterday.
Researchers from NUI Galway, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the HSE found it was mainly the stigma associated with chlamydia and other STIs that put off young people from getting tested.
The stigma was greatest among women, especially those from rural backgrounds and in urban working-class areas.
Despite the stigma associated with an STI test, 95%, including 75% of students, said they would take the test if it was offered to them by a doctor.
While 80% of those involved in the study said they would tell their current partner if they tested positive for chlamydia, the rate fell to 55% to 60% in telling previous partners.
The research involved students in two colleges who were invited to be tested in anonymous settings, called “pee-in-the-pot” during Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance college events which took place over one week.
About 1,000 young people were screened for the infection, and 48 who tested positive were traced and treated.
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