What is Chlamydia?Chlamydia has an infection rate in women similar to that of gonorrhea. Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Like gonorrhea, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. Diagnostic testing for chlamydia infection is widely available in the Western world. However, the test for chlamydia is costly and not generally available in developing countries. This means that in many parts of the world, chlamydia infections go undetected and therefore untreated.
How Does Chlamydia Infection Occur?As the term sexually transmitted disease suggests, chlamydia is spread from person to person during unprotected anal, vaginal, or oral sex. However, chlamydia can also be passed from mother to newborn baby during vaginal childbirth. While any sexually active person is at risk for infection, some people have a higher risk than others. They include:
- Teenage Girls: They have a higher risk because their cervix is not fully matured. A mature cervix does offer women some protection against chlamydia infection. Because a teenage girl's cervix is not fully mature, her risk of chlamydia is higher. It is important to note that even in women old enough to have a mature cervix, chlamydia infection can and does occur.
- Men Who Have Sex with Men: Because chlamydia spreads during oral and anal sex in addition to vaginal sex, men who have sex with men are also at risk for chlamydia infection.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Chlamydia?About 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men who have chlamydia have no symptoms. But if symptoms do appear, they do so about one to three weeks after infection. These symptoms vary between men and women.
- vaginal discharge
- burning or pain with urination
- abdominal and/or low back pain
- pain with intercourse
- vaginal bleeding between periods
Symptoms in Men
- burning or pain with urination
- penile discharge
- burning and itching at the tip of the penis
- swollen and painful testes
If left untreated, chlamydia can cause permanent damage to the reproductive system in both males and females. However, the damage caused by chlamydia may go unnoticed because many times there are no symptoms. For this reason, treatment of chlamydia is necessary despite the appearance or absence of symptoms.
How is Chlamydia Treated?Fortunately, treatment of chlamydia is easy and effective. A variety of antibiotics taken for various lengths of time will successfully treat a chlamydia infection. These antibiotics include:
- Azithromycin (Zithromax) - one day course
- Doxycycline - seven day course
Keep in mind that that all doses of the antibiotic must be taken even if the person is feeling better or is symptom-free. Also, sexual activity must be avoided during treatment and all sexual partners of an infected person must be tested and treated.
Women and teenage girls should be re-tested a few months after treatment. Because of the risk of reinfection from an untreated partner and the potential harm chlamydia can do to the reproductive system, it is important to make sure the chlamydia has been treated completely and that re-infection has not occurred.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2008"; Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, November 2009.
National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases; "Chlamydia Fact Sheet"; National Institutes of Health; 10 Nov 2010.