Concern over puzzling rare chlamydia strain infecting gay men

A particularly bad strain of chlamydia not usually seen in the United States appears to be slowly spreading among gay and bisexual men, an infection that can increase their chances of getting or spreading the AIDS virus.

Called LGV chlamydia, this sexually transmitted disease has caused a worrisome outbreak in Europe, where some countries have confirmed dozens of cases. Diagnoses confirmed by U.S. health officials still are low, just 27 since they warned a year ago that the strain was headed here.

But specialists say that's undoubtedly a fraction of the infections, because this illness is incredibly hard to diagnose: Few U.S. clinics and laboratories can test for it. Painful symptoms can be mistaken for other illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

And because LGV chlamydia doesn't always cause noticeable symptoms right away, at least an unknown number of people may silently harbor and spread it, along with an increased risk of HIV transmission.

"My feeling is that what we're seeing now is still the tip of the iceberg," says Dr. Philippe Chiliade of the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., which diagnosed its first few cases of LGV last month and is beginning to push for asymptomatic men to be screened.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already was counting an 8 percent increase in HIV among gay and bisexual men between 2003 and 2004, before LGV's arrival was recognized.

"We are really concerned about this," says Dr. Catherine McLean of CDC's HIV and STD prevention program, reports AP.

O.Ch.