Every new soldier in South Korea who tested positive for chlamydia in a special screening program showed no outward symptoms of the sexually transmitted disease, according to the nurse hired by 18th Medical Command to run the program.
From November through June, 124 of 2,134 incoming soldiers, about 5.8 percent, tested positive for chlamydia, according to Tanya Jacobsmuhlen, a registered nurse contracted by the medical command.
The project began eight months ago to detect reasons for what Army officials called a problem level of chlamydia among the roughly 20,000 troops in South Korea.
Determining those reasons — including whether the disease is continually arriving with new troops or just being passed around — will likely take a full year of study, Jacobsmuhlen said.
But what she has found is that every person who tested positive did not know they had the disease.
"That’s very surprising," she said.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can damage a woman’s reproductive organs. Symptoms can be mild or absent, but also can show one to three weeks after infection.
During her daily briefings with incoming soldiers, Jacobsmuhlen explains how the infection can spread easily through unprotected sex and how untreated symptoms can lead to ectopic pregnancies, which occur outside the uterus.
Since the screening began, Jacobsmuhlen found that the number of cases among men and women were nearly equal, even though all new female soldiers are tested while a random group of males 25 or younger — selected to match the number of females — is tested.
As of the end of June, 1,055 males were tested, with 56 found positive for chlamydia, or 5.3 percent. During the same period, 68 of 1,079 females tested, or 6.3 percent, showed positive results, according to Jacobsmuhlen. Two years ago, the number of chlamydia cases among servicemembers, workers and family members in South Korea peaked at 780. Last year there were 544 cases. As of June, there have been 321 cases, according to statistics provided by the command’s preventive services unit.
The testing is estimated to cost about $400,000 a year, according to 18th Medical Command spokesman Master Sgt. Desmond Smith.
Common name: Chlamydia
What it is: The most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, it is caused by bacteria. An estimated 2.8 million Americans are infected, and women are frequently reinfected if their sex partners are not treated. Infections occur during vaginal, anal or oral sex, and pregnant mothers can transmit it to babies during vaginal childbirth.
Symptoms: Usually mild or absent, but can show one to three weeks after exposure. For women, symptoms include abnormal discharge or burning when urinating. Further-developed cases can bring lower abdominal or back pain, nausea, fever, pain during sex or bleeding between periods. For men, symptoms can include discharge from the penis, burning when urinating or irritation.
Effects: Can damage women’s reproductive organs if untreated, resulting in
abnormal pregnancies or infertility.
Diagnostics: Urine or swab tests for men and women. Yearly screenings for women 25 and younger are suggested, as younger women and teens are more susceptible to the infection. All sexually active and/or pregnant women
should be screened.
Treatment: Small doses of antibiotics.
Prevention: Use of condoms will
greatly reduce risk.
From the Center for Disease Control and Prevention