Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection. It is caused by a bacteria called chlamydia trachomatis. This infection is easily spread because, it often causes no symptoms and may unknowingly be spread to sexual partners. It can affect both sexes. Women can get chlamydia in the cervix, rectum, or throat. Men can get chlamydia in the urethra (inside the penis), rectum, or throat.
Usually it doesn’t cause any symptoms and treatment is easy. However, if not treated early it can spread to other parts of your body and lead to long-term health problems.
How do you get chlamydia?
You can get chlamydia by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the infection. If your sex partner is male you can still get chlamydia even if he does not ejaculate (cum).
If you’ve had chlamydia and was treated in the past, infection can occur again. This can happen if you have unprotected sex with someone who has chlamydia. Besides, pregnant can also transmit the infections to their baby during childbirth.
However, you can’t catch it from contact with toilet seats, towels, bedding or swimwear, or from going to a sauna or a swimming pool.
How common is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a very common bacterial infection that you can get from sexual contact with another person. It’s most common in men and women aged under 25.
Your chances of catching chlamydia increase with the number of sexual partners you’ve. However, if you’ve ever had sex without using a condom (even only once) you could have caught it. Chlamydia is one of those diseases that you can catch again and again if you don’t protect yourself.
You should go for counselling and getting testing if:
- You or your partner think you might have symptoms.
- Your partner has the infection.
- You’ve had unprotected sex with a new partner.
- You or your partner have had unprotected sex with other partners.
Who is at risk?
Chlamydia is more common in young people, especially young women. You are more likely to get it if you don’t consistently use a condom, or if you have multiple partners.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
It’s very common not to have any symptoms at all. About 70% of women and 50% of men show no signs of infection. Even if you do have symptoms, these can easily be confused with other, less serious conditions such as thrush or pyelonephritis.
Any symptoms that do appear usually occur between one week and three weeks after catching the infection. Symptoms can last for a while or you may only notice them for a few days.
Symptoms in women can include:
- pain on passing urine
- vaginal discharge containing pus
- mild lower abdominal pain
If not treated, later symptoms may include:
- pain during sex
- bleeding after sex or in between periods
- severe pelvic pain
These symptoms are signs that the infection has spread further into your reproductive organs. It causes inflammation of your cervix and infection in your uterus (womb). This can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and fertility problems caused by damage to your fallopian tubes.
Symptoms in men include:
- Discharge from your penis which can either be cloudy or white
- A burning sensation when peeing
- Burning or itching around the opening of your penis
- Pain in the scrotum or groin
If not treated, men can go on to develop:
- pain, discharge or bleeding in the anus (bottom).
- swollen and painful testicles
- fertility problems caused by epididymitis
However, if the chlamydia infects the rectum (in men or women), it can cause rectal pain, discharge, and/or bleeding.
How is chlamydia diagnosed?
The good news is that diagnosis has become easier for men and women. This is because the standard test used to detect the disease now usually features either a urine test or a vaginal swab. For women, a swab may be taken from the lower part of the womb (cervix) or the vagina. For men, a swab may taken from the tip of the penis (urethra). If you’ve had anal or oral sex, you may have a swab taken from the rectum (bottom) or throat. There are also other tests which check a urine sample for the presence of the bacteria.
What are the treatments for chlamydia?
Antibiotics will cure the infection. You may get a one-time dose of the antibiotics, or you may need to take medicine every day for 7 days. You take either a seven-day course of doxycycline or a one-off dose of azithromycin. With early treatment, there are no complications. In the majority of cases (about 95 per cent), antibiotics are enough to get rid of the infection.
With treatment, the infection should clear up in about a week or two. It is important to finish all of your antibiotics even if you feel better. Women with severe chlamydia infection may require hospitalization, intravenous antibiotics (medicine given through a vein), and pain medicine.
It’s important that your sexual partner also gets treatment. If he isn’t, there’s a risk that you’ll become re-infected. Do your best to get in touch with any previous sexual partners who may also have the infection.
Ideally, you shouldn’t have sex (and that includes oral and anal sex) until you and your partner have completed the course of treatment. This is to prevent re-infection. There’s also treatment for pregnant and breastfeeding women as well.
How do you protect yourself against chlamydia?
Anyone who is sexually active can catch chlamydia. Besides, you’re most at risk if you either have a new sexual partner or don’t use a barrier method of contraception. Barrier method such as a condom, when having sex. You can help to protect yourself by:
- Use a new male or female condom or dental dam every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex.
- Use a new dental dam or latex gloves for rimming and fingering (exploring your partner’s anus with your fingers, mouth or tongue) or use latex gloves for fisting.
- Cover sex toys with a new condom and wash them after use.
- Limit the number of sexual partners you have, remember to use a new condom for each partner, and have regular STI tests.
- Know the status of any sexual partner.
- However, getting tested for STIs regularly is another important way to keep yourself healthy.