EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Health experts are warning that an epidemic of the sexually transmitted infection, chlamydia, may herald a wave of infertility among young Australians.
Nationwide reporting suggests that up to one in 20 15 to 24-year-olds carry the potentially devastating infection. Alarmingly, a high rate of chlamydia has been found in girls aged as young as 12. Kerry Brewster reports.
KERRY BREWSTER, REPORTER: Fear of pregnancy prompts many teenage girls to seek medical help.
"Get screened for disease" is the message to sexually active teenagers who come to this free youth clinic in Sydney's Bondi Junction.
Last year nearly 83,000 Australians under age 24 tested positive for the most common sexually transmitted infection, chlamydia, and that figure, say lead researchers, is just the tip of the iceberg.
DAVID WILSON, KIRBY INSTITUTE: We know that there are many more Australians that are out there who are undiagnosed. We know that because we've gone out and we've tested people in many general practice settings, in rural, remote and in urban settings in every state and territory and we've found that one in 20 young Australians have chlamydia. We estimate that about 500,000 young Australians have chlamydia right now.
ANNA MCNULTY, SYDNEY SEXUAL HEALTH CENTRE: I think the issue with chlamydia in any young person is if it's not detected, then there is a significant risk of infertility and complications down the track.
DAVID WILSON: To start with, it's often asymptomatic; they're not aware of it, but down the line what's often likely to occur is that they might get pelvic inflammatory disease. That's effectively you have pain in the pelvic region. But following that, what it can lead to is infertility. So many young women are likely to want to get pregnant in the future and they might be precluded from doing that because they've had chlamydia in the past.
KERRY BREWSTER: Chlamydia's on the rise, according to Professor Wilson. His research colleague, Carol El-Hayek, has analysed data from five states over three years. She found an alarming 13 per cent of 12 to 15-year-old girls tested for sexually transmitted infections carried chlamydia.
CAROL EL-HAYEK, BURNET INSTITUTE: 12 to 15-year-olds are sexually active. The fact that they're testing for STIs or that doctors are testing them for STIs means that they are practising sex and they're probably practising unsafe sex.The CDC has some information about chlamydia as well.