Chlamydia is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK. It can easily pass from one person to another through vaginal, oral, and anal sex and occasionally through heavy petting. Most people will have chlamydia at some point in their lifetime. Chlamydia is most common in sexually active teenagers and young adults.
Although most STIs can be either treated or cured with medicines, some STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, can pose serious health risks.
How Do You Get Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that is usually spread through sex or contact with infected genital fluids (semen or vaginal fluid).
You can get chlamydia through:
- Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex
- Sharing sex toys
- Your genitals meeting your partner's genitals – there does not need to be penetration, orgasm or ejaculation
- Infected semen or vaginal fluid getting into your eye
- It can be passed by a pregnant woman to her baby
Chlamydia cannot be passed on through casual contact, such as kissing and hugging, or from sharing towels, toilet seats or cutlery.
What Are The Risks?
Although chlamydia does not usually cause any symptoms it can be serious if it is not treated early on. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of your body and lead to long-term health problems, especially in women. These health problems include:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is an infection of the fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix.
- It can cause ectopic pregnancy and infertility and can be passed on by a pregnant woman to her baby.
- Having multiple chlamydial infections increases your risk of serious reproductive health complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancy.
- In men, in rare cases, chlamydia can cause epididymo-orchitis (inflammation of the testicles). This occurs if chlamydia spreads to the testicles and epididymis (tubes that carry sperm from the testicles), causing them to become painful and swollen.
- Occasionally it causes reactive arthritis in men and women.
What Are The Symptoms Of Chlamydia?
It is possible to have chlamydia without knowing it as it does not always cause symptoms or may only cause mild symptoms. Only about 25% of women and 50% of men notice symptoms. These symptoms usually include:
- Painful urination
- Unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or anus
- Pain in the abdomen, bleeding after sex and bleeding between periods
- In men, pain and swelling in the testicles
How Do You Test For Chlamydia?
If you are sexually active and under 25, it is recommended that you have a chlamydia test once a year, and when you have sex with new or casual partners. It is either in the form of a urine test or a swab test, with a sample being taken from your cervix, vagina, throat, or anus.
How Is Chlamydia Treated?
Chlamydia can normally be cured with a short course of antibiotics. Although medication will stop the infection, it will not repair any permanent damage done by the disease. If you think you might have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or have any symptoms of chlamydia, you should visit your local surgery to sexual health clinic.
If you have chlamydia you should abstain from sex for 7 days after single dose antibiotics or until completion of a 7-day course of antibiotics, to prevent spreading the infection to you partner. It is important to take all the medication prescribed. If your symptoms continue for more than a few days after receiving treatment, you should return to your health care provider to be revaluated.
Infants infected with chlamydia may develop conjunctivitis or pneumonia which can be treated with antibiotics.
Repeat infection with chlamydia is common. If your sex partner has not been properly treated, you are at high risk for re-infection. You should be retested about three months after treatment of an initial infection.
Anyone who is sexually active should adopt safer sex practices to prevent infection. This includes having an open discussion with any sex partners, having regular tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and using a condom for protection. These practices can help reduce the risk of STIs.