What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. Chlamydia infections are caused by a bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis. The infection is spread during intimate sexual contact. It is important to note that a man does not have to ejaculate to spread the infection. It is not possible to become infected with chlamydia by touching an object like a toilet seat.
The risk of getting chlamydia is greater if you have a new sexual partner, more than one sexual partner, or if you have had chlamydia before and have sex with a partner who wasn’t treated for this infection.
What are Chlamydia Symptoms?
Chlamydia infections can cause mild to severe symptoms. However, most people have no symptoms at all. This means that it is easy to spread the infection without ever knowing a person is infected.
Symptoms of Chlamydia in women:
Up to 90 percent of women with chlamydia have no symptoms at all. Of those who do, the most common symptoms include:
- Vaginal discharge
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Pain during sex
- Burning or pain with urination
Symptoms of Chlamydia in men:
Up to 70 percent of men with chlamydia have no symptoms at all. The most common symptoms of chlamydia in men include:
- Burning or pain with urination
- Discharge from the penis
- Pain or tenderness of the testicles
- Swelling in the scrotum
Men who have sex with men can develop a chlamydia infection in the rectum or anus.
Uncommonly, people with chlamydia develop a form of arthritis, called reactive arthritis. It can cause a cluster of seemingly unrelated features, including joint pain (arthritis) and uveitis (an inflammation of the inner part of the eye).Chlamydia can also cause an inflammation of the conjunctiva (conjunctivitis). This can be caused by exposure to genital fluids, such as semen or vaginal discharge, from a person infected with the bacteria.
Chlamydia in women can lead to a serious infection called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). If chlamydia is not treated, up to 30 percent of women may develop PID. PID can cause scarring of the fallopian tubes, which can lead to infertility and an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that develops in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus) or chronic pelvic pain.
Testing for chlamydia is done in a doctor or nurse’s office with a sample of urine or with a swab of fluid from the vagina or from the cervix (in women) or urethra (in men). Results are usually available within 24 hours.
Screening for Chlamydia
Once-yearly testing for chlamydia is recommended for all sexually active women who are younger than 25 years old, even in the absence of symptoms. This is because chlamydia is common in this age group and infection usually does not cause symptoms. Treating this infection can prevent some of the major problems it causes, especially infection of the female reproductive organs.
If you or your sexual partner are diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection like chlamydia, you should have testing for other infections, including HIV, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis.
Treatment of chlamydia is the same for women and men. For most infections, experts recommend a one-time antibiotic treatment that is taken by mouth, azithromycin. Azithromycin is safe to take during pregnancy.
Anyone who is allergic to azithromycin (or erythromycin) can take another antibiotic, doxycycline, but this must be taken twice daily for 7 days. It is important not to have sex during this treatment. Doxycycline is not used in pregnant women because of the risk of harm to developing teeth and bones in the fetus.
Some people who are infected with chlamydia may also be infected with gonorrhea. Thus, testing for gonorrhea is done at the same time as chlamydia testing. If the patient has both infections, additional treatment will be needed.
Sexual partner Treatment
Treatment is important for you and anyone you have had sex with recently (the last 60 days, or the last person you had sex with), whether or not he or she has symptoms or has a negative test for chlamydia. Your doctor or nurse might ask you to tell your sexual partner(s) to be treated. In some cases, your doctor or nurse will give you a prescription for both you and your partner.
The most effective way to prevent chlamydia is to avoid sexual intercourse. Because this is not practical for most people, the following tips are recommended:
- Men should use a latex condom every time they have sex.
- Discuss testing for sexually transmitted infections with your doctor or nurse. If you are a woman under 25 years old, ask if you are due for your annual chlamydia screening.
- See your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms of chlamydia or another infection.
- Do not have sex if you or your sexual partner has abnormal discharge, burning with urination, or a genital rash or sore.