HEADLINES Published August5, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

A Change in Pap Smear Frequency May Have Unintended Consequences

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A vial holding a sample for a Pap test.
(Photo : Angela Weiss, Getty Images )

In 2009, screening guidelines for Pap tests were changed for women and girls under aged 21; Women and girls in this age group were told that they didn't need to have the test done. But there was an unintended consequence, according to a new study: Some young women are missing out on screening for chlamydia, a common sexually transmitted disease.

A small, new study that discovered that the rate of chlamydia screening among women and girls aged 15 to 21 has dropped after national guidelines were changed because of evidence that showed the test did not benefit them.

But as fewer young women got Pap tests, chlamydia screening also fell off. In this study, researchers at the University of Michigan saw a precipitous drop in chlamydia screening at five outpatient clinics affiliated with the university. So why did chlamydia screening drop at the clinics in this study? Healthcare providers there were in the practice of "coupling" chlamydia screening with Pap testing, the study noted. Of roughly 1,600 young women seen at the clinics from 2008 to 2009, more than 500 were given chlamydia screening tests. But from 2011 to 2012, only 37 young women underwent chlamydia screening, according to the study.

The CDC and other groups advise all sexually active women younger under age 25 to get an annual chlamydia screening test. Chlamydia is a bacterial STD that infects nearly 3 million Americans each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Young women should be aware of the importance of being tested for chlamydia infections. Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) and if left untreated can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and to possible infertility. It usually has no symptoms.

Fewer than half of sexually active women younger than 21 are being screened for chlamydia, based on data from private and public health insurance plans.

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