What is Chlamydia?

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. It is the most frequently reported STD in the country (more than 1,307,000 chlamydial infections were reported in 2010).

Many people who have chlamydia have no symptoms and do not know they are infected.

Chlamydia can be passed from person to person through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can also be passed from an infected mother to her infant during vaginal childbirth.

Because the cervixes of younger women and teenagers are not fully matured, they are more susceptible to infection if sexually active. The greater number of partners a person has, the higher their risk of infection.

Chlamydia can cause irreversible damage to a woman’s reproductive organs, and can be a cause of infertility.

Men who have oral or anal sex with other men are also at risk for chlamydial infection. Chlamydia can also occur in the throats of those having oral sex with an infected partner.

Chlamydia symptoms

The majority of infected individuals have no symptoms of the disease. If symptoms do appear, it is usually within one to three weeks after exposure.

In females, chlamydia initially infects the cervix and urethra (urine canal). Symptoms include a burning sensation while urinating and an abnormal vaginal discharge.

If the infection spreads to the fallopian tubes, some women may have low back pain, fever, nausea, pain during sex, or abnormal bleeding. The STD can also spread to the rectum.

Men with chlamydia may have abnormal discharge from the penis and pain during urination. They may also experience burning and itching around the opening of the penis.

Chlamydia diagnosis

Laboratory tests can detect chlamydia. Some tests can be performed on urine, while others require that a specimen be collected from an infected area, such as the penis or cervix.

Chlamydia treatment

Chlamydia can be easily treated and cured with antibiotics for all partners. The most common treatment is a single dose of azithromycin or a twice-daily dose of doxycycline for a week.

It is important to refrain from sex until seven days after a single dose of antibiotics or until completion of a seven-day course of antibiotics, and after symptoms go away.

Women whose partners have not been treated have a high risk of re-infection. Anyone with chlamydia should be retested three months after treatment, regardless of whether or not their sexual partners were treated.

Other chlamydia risks & concerns

Untreated chlamydia infection can spread into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women. PID occurs in approximately 15 percent of women with untreated chlamydia.

PID infection in the upper genital tract may lead to permanent damage to the uterus, fallopian tubes, and surrounding tissues. This damage may cause pelvic pain, infertility and even a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy.

It is important that all sexually active women under the age of 25 have annual testing. Older women with a new sexual partner or multiple partners should also undergo annual screening.

Pregnant women should also have testing for chlamydia, as the baby could be infected during a vaginal birth.

In men, complications from chlamydia are rare, but infection may spread to the epididymis, causing fever, pain or sterility.