What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STD) caused by a bacterial infection. Chlamydia can be transmitted through vaginal, anal and oral sex. It most commonly affects the urethra in men and the cervix in women. Usually infection with chlamydia doesn’t have any symptoms. However, even if asymptomatic, infection with chlamydia can lead to problems including pain and infertility. The good news is that chlamydia is detectable, treatable and preventable. Use of barrier methods of contraception, like condoms, reduce the rates of transmission and antibiotics can effectively treat chlamydia infections.
Signs and Symptoms
Chlamydia infection commonly occurs in the urethra for men and cervix for women, and can occur in the rectum and throat for both. It is important to note that over 70% of women and 50% of men with chlamydia do not experience symptoms in the short term. If symptoms do show, the infection may have been present for months to years.
Common symptoms for men include:
- Urethral discharge
- Painful urination
- Itching/burning of the urethra
- Pain and swelling of testicles
Common symptoms for women include:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Painful urination
- Itching or burning around the vagina
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Bleeding outside normal menstruation
- Abdominal pain
If left untreated, chlamydia can have long term consequences.
- Infection and infertility
In women, the infection can spread upwards to the uterus and fallopian tubes causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can lead to inflammation, infertility or chronic pain.
In men, the infection can spread to the epididymis (in the testes) and cause inflammation, pain and fever. Although very rare, this can also lead to fertility problems.
- Increase the risk of contracting other STDs
Chlamydia infections may increase the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV.
- Risk to pregnant women and their babies
Untreated mothers can pass chlamydia infections to their babies. This can lead to eye disease and chest infections. Chlamydia infections during pregnancy can also increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth.
Testing for chlamydia is a simple process that can be done by your healthcare provider. If you are concerned you may have chlamydia, have any symptoms or if your partner has an STD, getting tested is important for your health.
The most common test to detect chlamydia is a urine test. This test can also look for infection with gonorrhoea. *********Link to gonorrhoea Chlamydia can also be detected by taking a sample of cells with a swab. In women, a swab can be taken from the throat, cervix, vagina or anus. In men a swab can be taken from the throat, urethra or anus.
People who are at higher risk for chlamydia infection should get tested regularly, this includes people who:
- Are sexually active
- Have more than one sex partner
- Have a partner with an STD
- Are a men who have sex with men
To read more about testing for STDs and how to get tested click here.
Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics which can be prescribed by a doctor. Depending on the severity of infection, a single dose or week long course of antibiotics may be prescribed. It is important to complete the entire course of antibiotics prescribed. Severe chlamydia may require antibiotics through a drip and painkillers.
Antibiotics can cure chlamydia infections, however they cannot repair damage that the infection may have caused.
A common question is when is it safe to have sex again after being infected. Usually it is recommended to avoid sexual intercourse until the infection is cleared, this includes oral sex and condom sex. This all depends on your doctor’s advice and the antibiotics you are taking.
Usually a 2-week follow up will be undertaken to ensure effectiveness of medication. It is common to get a repeat infection and so testing about three months after treatment is also recommended.
To prevent the spread of chlamydia, a number of things can be done. Telling your partner they may be infected is important to prevent getting chlamydia again and stop other people from being infected. If you find out you have chlamydia, all sexual partners from the last 6 months should be informed so they can be tested and treated.
To prevent chlamydia infection, it is best to practice safe sex. Condoms are effective at reducing the risk of catching or spreading chlamydia, during vaginal, anal or oral sex.