Background: Screening programmes are promoted to control transmission of and prevent female reproductive tract morbidity caused by genital chlamydia. The objective of this study was to examine the effectiveness of register-based and opportunistic chlamydia screening interventions.
Methods: We searched seven electronic databases (Cinahl, Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, DARE, Embase, Medline, PsycINFO and SIGLE) without language restrictions from January 1990 to October 2007 and reference lists of retrieved articles to identify studies published before 1990. We included studies examining primary outcomes (pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, infertility, adverse pregnancy outcomes, neonatal infection, chlamydia prevalence) and harms of chlamydia screening in men and non-pregnant and pregnant women. We extracted data in duplicate and synthesized the data narratively or used random effects meta-analysis, where appropriate.
Results: We included six systematic reviews, five randomized trials, one non-randomized comparative study and one time trend study. Five reviews recommended screening of women at high risk of chlamydia. Two randomized trials found that register-based screening of women at high risk of chlamydia and of female and male high school students reduced the incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease in women at 1 year. Methodological inadequacies could have overestimated the observed benefits. One randomized trial showed that opportunistic screening in women undergoing surgical termination of pregnancy reduced post-abortal rates of pelvic inflammatory disease compared with no screening. We found no randomized trials showing a benefit of opportunistic screening in other populations, no trial examining the effects of more than one screening round and no trials examining the harms of chlamydia screening.
Conclusion: There is an absence of evidence supporting opportunistic chlamydia screening in the general population younger than 25 years, the most commonly recommended approach. Equipoise remains, so high-quality randomized trials of multiple rounds of screening with biological outcome measures are still needed to determine the balance of benefits and harms of chlamydia screening.