Objectives: To examine data on the effectiveness of screening for chlamydial infection by a physician or other health care professional. Specifically, we examine the evidence that early treatment of chlamydial infection improves health outcomes, as well as evidence of the effectiveness of screening strategies in nonpregnant women, pregnant women, and men, and the accuracy of tests used for screening. This review updates the literature since the last recommendation of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force published in 1996.
Search strategy: We searched the topic of chlamydia in the MEDLINE, HealthSTAR, and Cochrane Library databases from January 1994 to July 2000, supplemented by reference lists of relevant articles and from experts in the field. Articles published prior to 1994 and research abstracts were cited if particularly important to the key questions or to the interpretation of included articles.
Selection criteria: A single reader reviewed all English abstracts. Articles were selected for full review if they were about Chlamydia trachomatis genitourinary infections in nonpregnant women, pregnant women, or men and were relevant to key questions in the analytic framework. Investigators read the full-text version of the retrieved articles and applied additional eligibility criteria. For all topics, we excluded articles if they did not provide sufficient information to determine the methods for selecting subjects and for analyzing data.
Data collection and analysis: We systematically reviewed three types of studies about screening in nonpregnant women that relate to three key questions: (1) studies about the effectiveness of screening programs in reducing prevalence rates of infection, (2) studies about risk factors for chlamydial infection in women, and (3) studies about chlamydial screening tests in women. Our search found too few studies on pregnant women to systematically review, although pertinent studies are described. We systematically reviewed two types of studies about screening in men: (1) studies about prevalence rates and risk factors for chlamydial infection in men and (2) studies about chlamydial screening tests in men.
Main results: Nonpregnant women. The results of a randomized controlled trial conducted in a large health maintenance organization indicate that screening women selected by a set of risk factors reduces the incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) over a 1-year period. Changes in population prevalence rates have not been well documented because few studies have employed a representative population sample. Age continues to be the best predictor of chlamydial infection in women, with most studies evaluating cut-offs at age younger than 25 years. Other risk factors may be useful predictors, but these are likely to be population specific. To determine the accuracy of screening tests for women, we retrieved and critically reviewed 34 articles on test performance. Results indicate that endocervical swab specimens and first-void urine specimens have similar performance when using DNA amplification tests and have better sensitivity than endocervical culture. Recurrent chlamydial infections in women have been associated with increased risks for PID and ectopic pregnancies. Pregnant women. The Second Task Force recommendations for screening pregnant women were based on two major studies demonstrating improved pregnancy outcomes following treatment of chlamydial infection. We identified no recent studies on this topic in our literature search. Very few studies describe risk factors for chlamydial infection in pregnant women. Nonculture testing techniques appear to perform well in pregnant women, although studies are limited. Men. No studies described the effectiveness of screening or early treatment for men in reducing transmission to women or in preventing acute infections or complications in men. Studies of prevalence rates and risk factors for chlamydial infection in men are limited. Age lower than 25 years is the strongest known risk factor cited so far. Results of urethral swab specimens compared to first-void urine specimens were similar for DNA amplification tests. DNA amplification techniques are more sensitive than culture.
Conclusions: Screening women for Chlamydia trachomatis reduces the incidence of PID, and it is associated with reductions in prevalence of infection in uncontrolled studies. No studies were found to determine whether screening asymptomatic men would reduce transmission or prevent acute infections or complications. Age is the strongest risk factor for men and women. A variety of tests can detect chlamydial infection with acceptable sensitivity and specificity, including new DNA amplification tests that use either endocervical swabs in women, urethral swabs in men, or first-void urine specimens from men and women.