Background: The success of chlamydia screening programmes relies on their ability to effectively target those with greatest need. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds may be at greater need for chlamydia screening, but existing evidence on the variation of prevalence with social position is inconclusive. We carried out a systematic review to examine variation in chlamydia prevalence in populations and possible sources of this variation.
Methods: Studies were eligible if they reported chlamydia prevalence derived from population-based samples that included young people aged 15-24 years from Europe, North America or Australia. Systematic searches of the following databases were undertaken from their inception to November 2014: MEDLINE, Embase, Web of Science and PsychINFO. There were no restrictions by language or publication date. Independent screening for eligibility and data extraction were carried out by two reviewers. Where possible, data were pooled in a meta-analysis using a random effects model. Heterogeneity was further investigated using meta-regression techniques.
Results: Of 1248 unique titles and abstracts and 263 potentially relevant full texts, 29 studies were eligible for inclusion. There was relatively strong evidence that disadvantaged young people had an increased risk of having a chlamydia infection across multiple measures of disadvantage, including lower educational attainment (OR 1.94, 95% CI: 1.52 to 2.47), lower occupational class (OR 1.49, 95% CI: 1.07 to 2.08) and residence in deprived areas (OR 1.76, 95% CI: 1.15 to 2.71) with an overall OR of 1.66 (95% CI: 1.37 to 2.02). Socioeconomic disadvantage was associated with chlamydia infection in both men and women. There was weaker evidence that prevalence estimates also varied by gender and age.
Conclusions: This review provides evidence of a consistent association between socioeconomic disadvantage and higher risk of Chlamydia infection. This association may reflect a number of factors including social variation in engagement with Chlamydia control programmes. Chlamydia screening could therefore reduce or increase health inequalities, depending on service provision and uptake by different socioeconomic groups.