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Will there be a next generation?
Chlamydia infections are known to have an impact on female reproductive organs, but with new research now indicating an infection can cause male infertility it seems there is no place those unseen beasts will not venture to stop us multiplying.
With 89 million new cases being reported a year globally, it is no surprise that Chlamydia is one of the most ubiquitous sexually transmitted infections caused by the pathogenic bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. The infections are fast proving to be both deadly, as worldwide the magnitude of morbidity is enormous and difficult to diagnose with most victims not experiencing any symptoms whatsoever.
While the list of complications which can arise from Chlamydia trachomatis infection seems to be an endless one, it is pelvic inflammatory disease which threatens fertility so the fact that numbers have shot up over the past twenty years is horrifically ominous. Approximately 20 % of women with Chlamydia lower genital tract infection will develop pelvic inflammatory disease, of which 3% will be rendered infertile and 2% getting adverse pregnancy outcomes. Essentially Chlamydia trachomatis is an obligate intracellular bacterium, upon breaking an entry into the body; its cells lynch onto to fallopian tube cells’ microvillus and multiply before lyses. ‘Confocal microscopy’ has now confirmed that the bacterium disrupted the homeostasis of epithelial tissue in fallopian tubes by activating panacrine wnt signalling in turn this not only damages infected epithelial cells but also uninfected cells beyond. With pelvic inflammation disease numbers escalating a secondary epidemic of tubular factor infertility as well as ectopic pregnancy has followed. Another study showed that the presence of antichlamydial antibodies and tubular factor infertility were closely correlated in females. IVF treatment was less effective as well as early pregnancy loss more likely when these antibodies were present. Given an infected female is pregnant, Chlamydia trachomatis can then be transmitted from mother to child during birth, leading on to yet more complications such as pneumonia.
Light is just starting to be shed on the link between Chlamydia and male infertility, however as the British Fertility Society have pointed out not enough research has been done and recent cuts to funding make the situation look even more dire. Generally, it is known that if left untreated nongonoccal urethiritis, caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, causes testicular swelling among other serious acute complications, making infertility all too possible. There is evidence that Chlamydia trachomatis could be a factor in sperm pathology, as a study examining 627 sperm samples found that those which were infected were of 14.4% lower volume, 6.4 % lower concentration and 9.3% lower velocity. Another study showed that infected sperm had three times the normal level of DNA fragmentation. However it was concluded that antibiotic treatment for Chlamydia infection can significantly improve male fertility.
An entire infertile generation may seem like an incomprehensible concept, however as antibiotic resistance remains rife; the day may come when we can no longer keep up with the unseen world’s evolution.
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About the Author: Sumaya Anwar is a student of biological sciences at UCL, with a special interest in genetics. Having previous experience as a broadcast journalist, producer and researcher, she now actively works as a presenter and writer. An outgoing, sociable person, she is always interested in finding out others opinions in the pursuit of seeing an issue from every angle. This is reflected in her writing, with a versatile style that would suit a multitude of different topics. Holding a strong belief that a combination of ambition and hard work make anything possible, Sumaya perseveres to make science assessable as well as understandable to everyone.