The natural history of Chlamydia trachomatis infection in women: a multi-parameter evidence synthesis

Health Technol Assess. 2016 Mar;20(22):1-250. doi: 10.3310/hta20220.


Background and objectives: The evidence base supporting the National Chlamydia Screening Programme, initiated in 2003, has been questioned repeatedly, with little consensus on modelling assumptions, parameter values or evidence sources to be used in cost-effectiveness analyses. The purpose of this project was to assemble all available evidence on the prevalence and incidence of Chlamydia trachomatis (CT) in the UK and its sequelae, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy (EP) and tubal factor infertility (TFI) to review the evidence base in its entirety, assess its consistency and, if possible, arrive at a coherent set of estimates consistent with all the evidence.

Methods: Evidence was identified using 'high-yield' strategies. Bayesian Multi-Parameter Evidence Synthesis models were constructed for separate subparts of the clinical and population epidemiology of CT. Where possible, different types of data sources were statistically combined to derive coherent estimates. Where evidence was inconsistent, evidence sources were re-interpreted and new estimates derived on a post-hoc basis.

Results: An internally coherent set of estimates was generated, consistent with a multifaceted evidence base, fertility surveys and routine UK statistics on PID and EP. Among the key findings were that the risk of PID (symptomatic or asymptomatic) following an untreated CT infection is 17.1% [95% credible interval (CrI) 6% to 29%] and the risk of salpingitis is 7.3% (95% CrI 2.2% to 14.0%). In women aged 16-24 years, screened at annual intervals, at best, 61% (95% CrI 55% to 67%) of CT-related PID and 22% (95% CrI 7% to 43%) of all PID could be directly prevented. For women aged 16-44 years, the proportions of PID, EP and TFI that are attributable to CT are estimated to be 20% (95% CrI 6% to 38%), 4.9% (95% CrI 1.2% to 12%) and 29% (95% CrI 9% to 56%), respectively. The prevalence of TFI in the UK in women at the end of their reproductive lives is 1.1%: this is consistent with all PID carrying a relatively high risk of reproductive damage, whether diagnosed or not. Every 1000 CT infections in women aged 16-44 years, on average, gives rise to approximately 171 episodes of PID and 73 of salpingitis, 2.0 EPs and 5.1 women with TFI at age 44 years.

Conclusions and research recommendations: The study establishes a set of interpretations of the major studies and study designs, under which a coherent set of estimates can be generated. CT is a significant cause of PID and TFI. CT screening is of benefit to the individual, but detection and treatment of incident infection may be more beneficial. Women with lower abdominal pain need better advice on when to seek early medical attention to avoid risk of reproductive damage. The study provides new insights into the reproductive risks of PID and the role of CT. Further research is required on the proportions of PID, EP and TFI attributable to CT to confirm predictions made in this report, and to improve the precision of key estimates. The cost-effectiveness of screening should be re-evaluated using the findings of this report.

Funding: The Medical Research Council grant G0801947.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Chlamydia Infections* / complications
  • Chlamydia Infections* / diagnosis
  • Chlamydia Infections* / epidemiology
  • Chlamydia trachomatis / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Mass Screening*
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease / epidemiology
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease / etiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Ectopic / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy, Ectopic / etiology
  • Prevalence
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Young Adult