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Canary to sparrow; what is in a name?
  1. Jennifer Hopwood,
  2. Harry Mallinson,
  3. Sally Wellsteed
  1. Chlamydia Pilot Office, Evidence Based Practice Centre, St Catherine's Hospital, Church Road, Birkenhead CH42 0LQ
  1. Dr Hopwood

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Editor,—The Contagious Diseases Act of 1864 allowed for the compulsory arrest, examination, and treatment of women considered (by an all male board) to be of loose morals. Women were detained in the so called “Canary wards” and their identity made clear by the bright yellow garments they were made to wear.

In the year 2000, there is still perceived stigma and blame associated with the diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and this must be minimised if a screening programme for chlamydia is to be successful. It will help reduce stigma if people know and accept that it is not a disease of a few readily identifiable people but that it is common and easy to acquire. It has been estimated that one in 14 young people will acquire it at some time.

In the NHS chlamydia pilot screening programme in Wirral and Portsmouth we are confirming that this infection is indeed endemic. Information material for the pilot study clearly states that it is a very common infection. To reduce the element of blame, we have included testing of men in some settings and have introduced instead of sexually transmitted, the term “sexually shared infection.”

We hope that by measures such as these, young people will avoid stigmatisation as “canaries.”

We do not, however, suggest that you change the name of your journal again!