Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection. It affects both men and women and is spread during sexual contact.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015, there were over 1.5 million cases of chlamydia in the United States. A rate of 478.8 cases per 100,000 population, which has been increasing since 2001.
Since 1994, chlamydia has been the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) reported to the CDC. In this article, we will discuss the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of chlamydia.
Although most people with chlamydia do not exhibit symptoms, they may start to appear 5 to 10 days after contracting the infection.
Chlamydia symptoms in women
These may include:
- abdominal pain
- large quantities of vaginal discharge that may be foul-smelling and yellow
- bleeding between periods
- low-grade fever
- painful intercourse, bleeding after intercourse
- burning with urination
- swelling in the vagina or around the anus
- needing to urinate more often or discomfort with urinating
Chlamydia symptoms in men
These may include:
- pain and burning with urination
- penile discharge (pus, watery, or milky discharge)
- testicle swelling and tenderness
If the rectum is affected in men or women, it can cause anal irritation. Most people, though, have no symptoms at all.
Treatment of chlamydia is very important because, if left untreated, it can cause long-term health consequences, including infertility and ectopic pregnancy.
Antibiotics are effective in treating chlamydia if the patient follows the doctor's instructions. In most cases, they will be in pill form. Repeat testing 3 to 4 months after treatment may be recommended, depending on risk factors.
Treatments for chlamydia may include:
- Azithromycin: The patient receives just one dose.
- Doxycycline: The patient usually takes the pills for 1 week. It is important that the course is completed to ensure the infection does not return.
Some patients, such as pregnant women, may be given alternative antibiotics. Doxycycline or tetracycline may affect the development of the baby's bones and teeth. Azithromycin has been shown to be safe and effective.
The following antibiotics are alternatives recommended by the CDC:
Some people might experience side effects after taking antibiotics, including:
- stomach pain
- gastrointestinal issues
In most cases, the side effects will be mild. Patients taking doxycycline might have a skin rash if they are exposed to sunlight. If the chlamydia is not treated, approximately 10 to 15 percent of women will develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Depending on the test used to diagnose chlamydia, a person may also be treated for gonorrhea because these two bacteria often occur together.
Diagnosing chlamydia may include a physical exam to look for the presence of physical symptoms such as discharge, and will also include either a swab sample from the penis, cervix, urethra, throat, or rectum, or a urine sample.
As chlamydial infection frequently presents no symptoms, health authorities in most nations recommend screening for some people. The CDC recommend chlamydia screening for:
- women under 25 years of age
- pregnant women
- high-risk males and females
How is chlamydia screening done?
Women can go through the procedure at home or in the lab, either with a urine sample or by taking a swab from the lower vagina. The swab is placed in a container and sent to a laboratory.
For men,a urine test is most commonly used.
Consult a doctor about the best way to test for each person's situation. Some people may have rectal or throat testing, especially people who have HIV.
Chlamydia may be transmitted by unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person.
Genital contact can also pass on chlamydia.
As chlamydial infection presents no symptoms in at least 70 percent of carriers, an infected person may pass it on to their sexual partner without knowing.
Chlamydia cannot be transmitted through:
- contact with a toilet seat that has been used by an infected person
- sharing a sauna with infected people
- sharing a swimming pool with infected people
- touching a surface that an infected person had previously touched or coughed/sneezed on
- standing close to an infected person, inhaling the air after they have coughed or sneezed
- sharing an office with an infected colleague
An infected mother can pass the infection on to her baby during childbirth. Sometimes, the infection leads to complications for the infant, such as pneumonia. If a mother has a chlamydia infection during pregnancy, she will require a test 3 to 4 weeks after treatment to ensure the infection has not returned.
What is the chlamydia bacteria?
Chlamydia is an infection by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis (C. trachomatis). Some scientists believe it to be the most common bacterial STI in the world.
Chlamydia infection can affect several organs including the penis, vagina, cervix, urethra, anus, eye, and throat and can cause serious and sometimes permanent damage to the reproductive system.
Prevention methods include:
- using a dental dam during oral sex
- regular screening
To avoid spreading chlamydia, individuals should avoid sexual activity until treatment is complete. If a one-time dose of antibiotics is prescribed, it is recommended that people avoid sex until 7 to 10 days after treatment.
Early diagnosis and treatment greatly reduce the risk of complications. Complications can be prevented with regular screening, or by seeking medical attention as soon as symptoms appear.
Complications of chlamydia in women include:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): This is an infection of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus, that can lead to infertility. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of women will develop PID if chlamydia is untreated.
- Cervicitis: This is an inflammation of the neck of the womb.
- Salpingitis: This is an inflammation of the fallopian tubes. There is a significantly increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.
Complications of chlamydia in men include:
- Urethritis: The urethra, a tube which carries urine from the bladder to the end of the penis, becomes inflamed.
- Epididymitis: This is an inflammation of the epididymis, a structure inside the scrotum. Signs and symptoms include red, swollen, and warm scrotum, testicle pain, and tenderness.
Reactive arthritis is a possible complication of chlamydia and can affect both men and women. It is a chronic type of inflammatory arthritis. This can include arthritis, conjunctivitis, and inflammation of the genital, urinary, and gastrointestinal systems.
The complications of chlamydia are potentially serious, so treatment and screening are very important.