When women over 30 heard they could forego annual pap smears and start getting the check every three years provided they had three consecutive normal paps, we all thought yay! But a new study in Canadian Family Physician found implementation of that new guideline has had a negative side effect: less STI screening.
Researchers looked at patient charts across five primary care sites at St. Michael’s Hospital in Canada in the year before the guidelines changed and the year after and found in addition to the guidelines reducing Pap smear tests by 60 percent (from 42 to 17 percent), screening rates for gonorrhea and chlamydia decreased from 40 to 20 percent. Women were less likely to be screened for syphilis, hepatitis C, and HIV as well.
“Based on prevalence trends, our findings suggest a possibly harmful public health consequence,” said the study’s lead researcher Dr. Tali Bogler, a family physician at St. Michael’s. “These infections are extremely common in young women; therefore it’s critical that family physicians find new and innovative ways to screen for STIs in sexually active women under 25.”
While Canada implemented the three-year pap rule in 20102, the United States adopted the guideline two years prior which means researchers could likely uncover similar findings here. Let this be a reminder that even though you may be skipping your pap, you should still get tested for all STDs at least once per year and with every new partner.
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