A new study published Tuesday in The Lancet shows promise for a chlamydia vaccine in the near future. As STI rates reach a record high, it can’t come soon enough. In 2016, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 2 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. The mounting statistics have created a renewed urgency in making scientific steps to prevent these life-altering—and sometime life-threatening—diseases.
Chlamydia, which is the most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the world, proves especially tricky because of its under-the-radar symptoms, reports Time. While the STI can be remedied early on with antibiotics, it can increase an individual’s risk of infertility and pelvic pain if left untreated. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned that chlamydia is often resistant to antibiotics; in rare cases, even early treatment proves ineffective.
The trial—which included a small sample size of 30 healthy women between the ages of 19 and 45—seeks to prevent people from receiving the STI in the first place. Participants in the study received one of two vaccines formulations or a placebo. Because the trial is still in its early stages, researchers haven’t yet assessed women who tested positive for chlamydia. Instead, they evaluated the ability of a vaccine to kickstart the production of the antibodies necessary to fight off the bacteria responsible for the disease. One vaccine proved slightly better than the other, and scientists will likely move forward by testing it on people with chlamydia.
“We need to encourage more trials to be done in this space, because it’s such an important infection with such a big potential public-health gain.” —Robin Shattock, PhD
While a vaccine is in everyone’s best interest, it’s especially vital for women. According to the American Sexual Health Association, women experience more long-term consequences of sexually transmitted infections that men, including ectopic pregnancies and chronic pelvic pain as well as the possibility of passing the infection along to the baby. However, men are more likely to experience symptoms than women, which means it can be treated sooner. (Oh, and not so fun fact: There are no—zero! zilch!—CDC-sanctioned recommendations as to how often straight men should be tested for STIs.)
Luckily, Robin Shattock, PhD, the professor at Imperial College London who authored the study, tells Time that he’s hopeful the vaccine will become commercially available in the next five to seven years: “We need to encourage more trials to be done in this space, because it’s such an important infection with such a big potential public-health gain.”
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