The Dublin Well Woman Centre’s three clinics carried out 4,576 chlamydia tests so far this year, a figure that surpasses full-year totals for each of the last five years.
In 2008, 4,791 people were tested; 4,247 in 2009; 3,826 in 2010; 3,934 in 2011; 4,424 in 2012; and 4,182 in 2013.
Prevalence rates for the infection average around 5% across all groups but there is a spike in positive tests in younger age groups.
The highest rate, at 10%, occurs in the under-20 age group, an indication that young people are engaging in risky sexual practices or not taking appropriate protective measures.
If diagnosed early, chlamydia can be treated with a course of antibiotics. Left undiagnosed, the infection can lead to chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility in women. Men can also become infertile.
The medical director of the Dublin Well Woman Centre, Dr Shirley McQuade, welcomed the fact that more women were aware of the need for testing but warned that only correct use of a condom would prevent the spread of the infection.
“It is very important for anyone who has had a recent change in partners to get tested for chlamydia. The fact that we are testing more people is an indication that people understand this,” she said.
The centre is concerned that the safe-sex message is not getting through, despite the amount of public health resources devoted to it.
The Dublin Well Woman Centre chief executive, Alison Begas, warned Christmas party-goers to practise safe sex. “There is a lot of awareness among women about the disease but that, sadly, does not seem to be translating into safer sex and ensuring they use protection — condoms,” said Ms Begas.
She said a national chlamydia screening programme aimed at younger women “would be the ideal” because, in most cases, the disease was asymptomatic.
“The sexual education messages really need to be ramped up as well; it needs to be consistent and it needs to be more effective because, clearly, the message is not getting through,” said Ms Begas.
The centre also found that some women in their late 30s and 40s who have come out of a long-term marriage or relationship and were back out dating do not practise safe sex.
“If you are in a new relationship and you have not had a conversation about past relationships you should be using a condom and using it correctly. “We were surprised that the number of people being tested is back up at Celtic Tiger levels. It’s a sign that people are letting their guard down.”