Epidemiology of Chlamydia trachomatis infection in women and the cost-effectiveness of screening

Hum Reprod Update. 2010 Mar-Apr;16(2):189-204. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmp035. Epub 2009 Oct 14.


Background: The majority of Chlamydia trachomatis infections in women are asymptomatic, but may give rise to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and tubal infertility. Screening programmes aim at reducing morbidity in individuals by early detection and treatment, and at decreasing the overall prevalence of infection in the population. A number of modelling studies have tried to calculate the threshold prevalence of chlamydia lower genital tract infection above which screening becomes cost-effective. There is considerable debate over the exact complication rates after chlamydia infections, and more precise estimates of PID and tubal infertility are needed, for instance to be inserted in economic models.

Methods: With reference to key studies and systematic reviews, an overview is provided focusing on the epidemiology of chlamydia infection and the risk-estimates of its late complications.

Results: In the literature, the generally assumed risk of developing PID after lower genital tract chlamydia infection varies considerably, and is up to 30%. For developing tubal infertility after PID the risks are 10-20%. This implies that the risk of test-positive women of developing tubal infertility would range between 0.1 and 6%. We included chlamydia IgG antibody testing in a model and estimated a risk of tubal infertility up to 4.6%.

Conclusion: The risk of developing late complications after chlamydia lower genital tract infection appears low. High quality RCTs dealing with the transition from cervicitis to infertility are needed to broaden the evidence. In screening programmes, chlamydia antibody testing, as an intermediate marker for potential adverse sequelae, might enable more precise estimates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Bacterial / blood
  • Antigens, Bacterial / analysis
  • Chlamydia Infections / complications
  • Chlamydia Infections / diagnosis
  • Chlamydia Infections / epidemiology*
  • Chlamydia Infections / prevention & control
  • Chlamydia trachomatis* / genetics
  • Chlamydia trachomatis* / immunology
  • Chlamydia trachomatis* / isolation & purification
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Female / etiology
  • Infertility, Female / prevention & control
  • Mass Screening / economics
  • Models, Biological
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease / etiology
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease / prevention & control
  • RNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Uterine Cervicitis / etiology
  • Uterine Cervicitis / prevention & control


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Bacterial