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Alarming rates of chlamydia infection

Thursday, 20th May 2004

Alarming rates of chlamydia infection among pregnant NZ women
Researchers call for routine testing of pregnant women

University of Otago researchers are calling for routine testing of pregnant women for chlamydia following an audit showing unacceptably high infection rates of more than 12 per cent among pregnant women under the age of 25 years.

The researchers from the University’s Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences discovered the worrying statistics after investigating infection rates among pregnant women and also whether they are being routinely tested for chlamydia.

The research, just published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, reports that less than half of all pregnant women in the study were tested for chlamydia, despite the fact that infection can affect both the pregnant woman and her newborn baby.

Lead researcher Dr Beverley Lawton says “pregnant women with undiagnosed and untreated chlamydia risk a range of health problems including pre-term and low birth weight babies.”

Babies with chlamydia have a higher risk of conjunctivitis (30 - 50 per cent) and pneumonia (11 - 20 per cent).

“Results of the audit show the rate of chlamydia infection in pregnancy is higher among Maori and Pacific women and overall in women under 25 years.”

Infection rates among pregnant Maori women are 15.2 per cent, Pacific women 12.5 per cent and under 25 year olds 12.2 per cent. Rates of infection for pregnant women 25 years and older are 2.3 per cent

Chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in New Zealand, but those with the infection will often have no symptoms. Approximately 80 per cent of infected females, and 45 per cent of infected males will have no symptoms.

“Routine testing for chlamydia by taking a swab is regarded as best practice internationally and is recommended in evidence based international guidelines,” Dr Lawton says. “There are currently no guidelines advocating routine testing for chlamydia among pregnant women in New Zealand. Until routine testing is instigated in this country more and more babies and their mothers are going to contract preventable chlamydia.

“Infection with chlamydia during pregnancy has considerable personal costs, as well as costs to the health system. Antibiotic treatment of infected mothers and their sexual partner is simple and cost-effective.”


Key points
- Rates of Chlamydia infection are increasing in New Zealand.
- International guidelines recommend screening in pregnancy.
- Maternal and neonatal Chlamydia has considerable personal and economic costs.
- Maternal Chlamydia is easily detected and readily treated.
- Treatment of maternal Chlamydia improves maternal and neonatal outcomes.

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