Controversies and evidence on Chlamydia testing and treatment in asymptomatic women and men who have sex with men: a narrative review

Nicole H. T. M. Dukers-Muijrers, Ymke J. Evers, Christian J. P. A. Hoebe, Petra F. G. Wolffs, Henry J. C. de Vries, Bernice Hoenderboom, Marianne A. B. van der Sande, Janneke Heijne, Jeffrey D. Klausner, Jane S. Hocking, Jan van Bergen

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review

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BACKGROUND: Chlamydia trachomatis (CT) is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) worldwide. CT is mainly asymptomatic. Test-and-treat strategies are widely implemented to prevent transmission and complications. Strategies are not without controversy in asymptomatic women and men who have sex with men (MSM). Concerns are emerging to test and treat asymptomatic persons for urogenital CT ('Controversy 1') and pharyngeal or rectal CT ('Controversy 2'), whereby testing symptomatic persons is not under debate. Opposed views in CT treatment involve using azithromycin versus doxycycline ('Controversy 3'). The objective of this review is to provide coverage of these public health and clinical controversies by reviewing the current scientific evidence.

METHODS: A literature search was performed using PubMed for relevant publications between 2018 and September 2021, and iterative retrieval of additional relevant publications.

RESULTS: Controversy 1. In women, the majority of asymptomatic CT are at the urogenital site, and detections mostly include viable CT. CT easily transmits to a partner and potentially also between the vaginal and rectal areas; the clinical impact of urogenital CT is established, although risks for adverse outcomes are uncertain. Wide-scale testing in asymptomatic women has not resulted in reduced prevalence. In MSM, evidence for the clinical impact of asymptomatic urogenital CT is lacking. Controversy 2. Rectal CT is common in women diagnosed with urogenital CT, but the clinical impact of asymptomatic rectal CT is uncertain. In MSM, rectal CT is common, and most CT infections are at the rectal site, yet the risk of longer term complications is unknown. In both sexes, pharyngeal CT is uncommon and has no documented clinical impact. Controversy 3. In the treatment of rectal CT, doxycycline has superior effectiveness to azithromycin. Evidence has also accumulated on the harms of test-and-treat strategies.

CONCLUSIONS: Current practices vary widely, from widescale test-and-treat approaches to more individual patient- and partner-level case management. Choosing which asymptomatic people to test at what anatomic site, and whether to test or not, requires an urgent (re-)definition of the goals of testing and treating asymptomatic persons. Treatment guidelines are shifting toward universal doxycycline use, and clinical practice now faces the challenge of implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number255
JournalBMC Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)255
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Chlamydia Infections/diagnosis
  • Chlamydia trachomatis
  • Female
  • Gonorrhea/epidemiology
  • Homosexuality, Male
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities


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