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Chlamydia: Prevalence, Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment


Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria chlamydia trachomatis. It is the most reported STI in the United States (U.S.), and the CDC estimates over four million cases in 2018. This infection often has no symptoms and, left untreated, can cause serious complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain.

Chlamydia prevalence in the U.S.

In 2018, the CDC estimated over four million cases of chlamydia in the U.S., including 2.4 million new cases. Two-thirds of new chlamydial infections are attributed to young people aged 15-24.

Chlamydia infection often has no symptoms making it challenging to account for all incidences. It spreads when you have sex (oral, vaginal, or anal) with an infected person. Healthcare providers (HCP) should screen for chlamydia in sexually active patients. If your HCP does not ask about your sexual health, bring it up and be open about your sexual activity.

Untreated chlamydia can cause serious complications, especially in women. Complications for women include PID, infertility, tubal pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain. Men can also suffer long-term consequences of chlamydia, including epididymitis – swelling or pain in the back of the testicle in the tube (epididymis) that stores and carries sperm, and prostate gland infection (rare).

Awareness of this common STI is vital, so sexually active people know to seek out testing to determine if they are infected with chlamydia and, most importantly, decrease the risk of long-term complications.

When to get tested for chlamydia

Maintaining your sexual health is essential to your overall health and safety. If you are sexually active, the only way to know if you are infected with chlamydia is to get tested.

Contact your HCP or health clinic and get tested if:

  • You are pregnant.
  • You are a sexually active woman.
  • Your partner has tested positive for chlamydia.
  • You are a gay man or man who has sex with men (MSM).

Chlamydia may have no symptoms. However, symptoms do occur in some people who acquire the infection.

Signs and symptoms of chlamydia

Chlamydia is referred to as the “silent” infection because there are often no symptoms. For people with symptoms, chlamydia has an incubation period of 5-14 days before symptoms develop.

See your HCP as soon as possible if you have:

  • Painful or burning urination
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina or penis
  • Pain during sex
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Vaginal bleeding after sex
  • Testicular pain
  • Unexplained sores or a rash
  • Eye infection (conjunctivitis) – can occur through contact with infected body fluids

Chlamydia can also infect the rectum. See your HCP if you have:

  • Rectal pain
  • Rectal discharge or bleeding

Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics. An early diagnosis of chlamydia means earlier curative treatment and a lower risk for complications.

Treatment for chlamydia

The treatment for chlamydia is antibiotics. Your HCP may prescribe a one-time dose, or you may be required to take multiple doses of antibiotics over several days. Take all of the medicine prescribed for you and follow the directions carefully. Most of the time, chlamydia infection is cured in one to two weeks. Do not have sex during this time.

Antibiotics cure chlamydia but cannot repair any damage caused by the infection.

Any recent sexual partners should be treated for chlamydia even if they have no signs or symptoms. This will prevent you from passing chlamydia to each other. You can get re-infected with chlamydia if you have sex with an infected partner.

If you are pregnant, you might pass on chlamydia to your baby. Your baby may be pre-term (born early) and have conjunctivitis or pneumonia. HCPs can treat newborns with antibiotics to cure their chlamydia infection.

There are ways to help prevent chlamydia infection.

Chlamydia prevention

Abstinence, which means not having sex of any kind (vaginal, anal, or oral), is the only method that is 100% effective against chlamydia and other STIs.

Ways to decrease your risk of getting infected with chlamydia:

  • Have sex with only one partner in a mutually monogamous relationship – you only have sex with each other.
  • Use latex condoms correctly every time.
  • Wait before you have sex with a new partner until you both have tested negative.
  • Do not douche. Douching decreases the number of good bacteria in the vagina, which increases your risk of infection with chlamydia.

If you decide against abstinence, take every step to decrease your risk of getting infected with chlamydia. Your sexual health is essential to your well-being.

Conclusion

Chlamydia is the most reported STI in the U.S. It often has no symptoms; if untreated, serious complications can develop. Sexually active young people aged 15-24 are at the highest risk, but any sexually active person can contract chlamydia through vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

If positive for chlamydia, getting tested and treated is the best course of action to take for your sexual health.

Key takeaways

Chlamydia is the most common STI reported in the U.S and might have no symptoms.

Get tested for chlamydia if you are sexually active. See your HCP for advice about your sexual health and testing.

Sexually active young people are most at risk for getting chlamydia infection.

If you are pregnant, you can pass the infection to your baby. Get tested for chlamydia and any other STIs as recommended by your HCP.

Maintaining your sexual health is important to your overall health and safety.

Resources:

CDC. STD statistics

CDC. Chlamydia fact sheet

Urology Care Foundation. What are Epididymitis and Orchitis?

Mayo Clinic. Chlamydia

UpToDate. Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of Chlamydia trachomatis infections

HopkinsMedicine.org. Sexually transmitted diseases

Tulane University. STI vs. STD

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