updated 5/11/2004 5:44:53 PM ET 2004-05-11T21:44:53

More than 4 percent of young adults in the United States are infected with chlamydia, and the sexually transmitted disease is six times more common in blacks than in whites, researchers say.

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In a nationally representative study of 14,322 people ages 18 to 26 conducted in 2001-02, University of North Carolina researchers found that 4.7 percent of women and 3.6 percent of men had chlamydia. The overall prevalence was 4.2 percent.

The researchers said their figures are slightly higher than some previous nationwide estimates, which were based on different methodology.

The prevalence was lowest among whites — 1.94 percent — and highest among blacks — 12.54 percent. Other infection rates were 10.4 percent of Native Americans, 5.9 percent of Hispanics and 2 percent of Asian-Americans.

Similar racial and gender disparities have been found in previous studies.

Better screening methods needed
While current screening strategies focus on testing young women, the high rates found in men suggest better methods are needed, said lead author Dr. William C. Miller of UNC-Chapel Hill.

The study appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

The UNC study is based on in-person interviews with young adults and analysis of urine specimens.

Chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted disease nationwide, with an estimated 3 million people infected each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chlamydia infections can be cured with antibiotics. Left untreated, they can cause pelvic pain and infertility in women and increase susceptibility to the AIDS virus in men and women.

In 2002, 834,555 cases of chlamydia were reported in the United States.

Human papilloma virus, which can cause cervical cancer, is the most common sexually transmitted disease nationwide, with more than 5 million new cases each year, according to the CDC.

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