Page last updated at 00:12 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 01:12 UK

Rapid chlamydia diagnosis for men

Chlamydia bacteria
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection

A urine test can diagnose the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia in men within an hour, enabling on-the-spot treatment.

Chlamydia is the most common STI, and doctors are concerned at high rates of transmission, particularly among younger people aged 16-24.

The infection often produces no symptoms but, if left untreated, it can seriously damage fertility.

Rapid treatment would prevent it being passed to others unknowingly.

No symptoms in most cases in men and women
Symptoms can include discharge or pain, possibly when passing urine
Evidence that, left untreated, it may reduce male fertility, and leave women unfertile
In women it can also cause serious complications, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy

In 2008, young people accounted for two-thirds of all new standard chlamydia infections diagnosed in sexual health clinics.

In England, as many as 68 young men in every 1,000 and 84 young women in every 1,000 carry the infection.

Since the mid-1990s, the number of diagnosed infections has risen an average of 7,500 per year to over 123,000.

Once diagnosed, chlamydia can be treated easily with a one-off antibiotic pill.

However, male tests have been relatively inaccurate and involved urethral swabs, which can cause discomfort.

Dr Helen Lee, from the University of Cambridge, who helped develop the new test, said: "Horror stories about painful swabs have put men off getting tested for chlamydia, and other non-invasive tests are expensive, technically complex and take days to obtain the result.

"This has led to many cases of infection in men going undiagnosed and being transmitted to their female partners, with potentially more serious complications."

Collection device

The new Chlamydia Rapid Test is designed to be used with a device for collecting urine from men called FirstBurst.

FirstBurst can collect six times the amount of chlamydia bacteria contained in a standard urine sample.

The test then uses a signal amplification system to boost its sensitivity, giving the results in less than an hour.

An evaluation, published in the British Medical Journal, found the test was significantly more accurate than existing urine-based rapid tests.

Samples from more than 1,200 men produced a diagnostic accuracy rate of 84.1%.

Dr Lee said: "Without an effective and rapid testing programme for men, we are unlikely to succeed in efforts to control chlamydia infection.

"This new test is both accurate and swift, allowing men attending the clinics to be tested and treated on site in one visit."

Dr Ted Bianco, of the Wellcome Trust, which funded development of the test, said: "Right now, our tests are too slow to permit on-the-spot treatment or too insensitive to detect an adequate proportion of cases.

"The new assay offers a way forward."

It is hoped that the new test will also be of particular use in the developing world, where management of chlamydia in men is often based on self-diagnosis and specific diagnostic tests are rarely available.

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