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Teen magazines targeted in Chlamydia fight

6th May 2010

Soap operas and teen magazines, alongside cutting edge technology and vaccine research, will help fight the spread of Chlamydia, with a grant awarded to Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

The Chlamydia Research Alliance project at QUT has been awarded a $1.88 million Queensland Government National and International Research Alliances Program grant to work with Indian and Canadian researchers to develop effective treatment and infection control for the sexually transmitted disease.

In a novel approach, the project will also include QUT creative industries researchers to develop a sex education program targeted at teens and young adults in Australia to help them develop healthy sexual behaviours.

Project leader Professor Peter Timms, from QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI), said Chlamydia was on the rise with more than 60,000 Australians becoming infected in the last year, and 16,500 of those cases in Queensland.

"Unfortunately, the disease has a high incidence rate in the 18 to 25 age group," Professor Timms said.

"We need to get the message across that this disease is prevalent and that they need to take precautions to prevent infection and to stop the spread of the disease in the community."

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection that affects humans and some animals, including koalas, and can cause infertility, urinary tract infections and blindness.

Professor Alan McKee, from QUT's Creative Industries Faculty, is one of the chief investigators on the project, and said entertainment could play an important role in helping young people avoid contracting Chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases.

"Entertainment is a valuable source of information," Professor McKee said.

"Out in the real world, people rarely read text books. One of the ways they learn about the world around them is through the entertainment they consume, alongside school, family and friends."

He said magazines such as Girlfriend and Dolly and TV shows like Home and Away could provide essential information about healthy sexual behaviour.

Professor McKee said parents also played an invaluable role in helping their children to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.

"A normal, healthy child will start to ask questions about sex, such as 'where did I come from', from about the ages of four or five," he said.

"If parents don't answer those questions, that's a huge problem.

"We will explore the best ways to support parents and help them to explain to their children what healthy sexual behaviour is."

Professor Peter Timms, who leads the project with Professor Ken Beagley, said the project would also improve treatment of the infection and include the development of an effective vaccine for humans and animals, with initial tests of a vaccine for koalas showing positive results.

"Chlamydia is major problem for Australia's koala population and when combined with habitat destruction threatens their very existence," Professor Timms said.

Professor McKee is a member of QUT's Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation, a multidisciplinary research centre dedicated to delivering groundbreaking research and commercialisation ventures.

Media contact: Rachael Wilson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1150 or rachael.wilson@qut.edu.au.

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