Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the U.S.
Chlamydia can cause health complications, including infertility.
Fortunately, chlamydia is completely curable with antibiotics.
Chlamydia is a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that affects both males and females. Chlamydia is particularly common among sexually active people between 18 and 29 years old. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 out of every 20 sexually active females between 14 and 24 years old has chlamydia.
Chlamydia can cause serious health problems — including infertility — so early treatment is important. But how do you know if you need a chlamydia test or treatment? Let’s take a look at some facts about chlamydia and what you can do to avoid getting it and passing it to others.
Chlamydia is an infection caused by a bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia bacteria lives in bodily fluids like vaginal fluid and semen. When someone comes in contact with these fluids, they can get chlamydia. You can come in contact with these fluids through:
Chlamydia is not spread through kissing, hugging, or sharing utensils.
Chlamydia is called a “silent infection” because people often don’t realize they have it. Studies show that:
90% of males with chlamydia never have symptoms
70% to 95% of females with chlamydia never have symptoms
When chlamydia does cause symptoms, people can experience:
Urethritis: discharge, pain, or burning with urination
Proctitis: bloody stool, anal or rectal pain, and constipation
Conjunctivitis: eye redness and watery discharge
Pharyngitis: sore throat and pain with swallowing
Genital lymphogranuloma venereum: large, swollen, and painful lymph nodes
Reactive arthritis triad: pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints
Both males and females can have the symptoms described above.
In addition, females can also have:
Cervicitis: Cervicitis is when chlamydia infects the cervix. This can cause vaginal discharge, burning with urination, pain with sex, and heavy menstrual bleeding.
And males can also have:
Epididymitis: Epididymitis causes testicular pain and redness, usually only on one side.
Prostatitis: Prostatitis happens when chlamydia infects the prostate. This can cause pain with urination and ejaculation as well as pelvic pain.
Symptoms usually start 1 to 3 weeks after exposure to chlamydia — if they develop at all. Some people develop symptoms several weeks to months after exposure.
People who never feel sick can still pass chlamydia to other people during sex.
A healthcare provider can check your urine sample for chlamydia. Alternatively, they can use a swab that looks like a Q-tip to send a sample from your vagina or urethra. You can also collect one of these samples yourself at home using a home test STI kit.
If you test positive for chlamydia — don’t panic. Chlamydia is completely curable with antibiotics. Your healthcare provider will likely prescribe one of the following:
If you need treatment for chlamydia, make sure to get retested 3 months after finishing your antibiotics. This will make sure that the antibiotics worked.
Untreated chlamydia infections can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in females.
PID causes damage to reproductive organs. Females who have PID may develop:
Infertility (inability to become pregnant)
Tubo-ovarian abscess (a collection of pus in the fallopian tubes and/or ovaries)
Chronic pelvic pain
People who never have chlamydia symptoms can still get these complications.
It can take up to 7 days for the antibiotics to kill all the chlamydia bacteria. Once you finish antibiotics, avoid any kind of sex for a week.
It is possible to get chlamydia more than once. So make sure your partner is treated too — that way you won’t pass it to each other.
There’s a lot you can do to keep yourself safe from chlamydia while sexually active:
Get tested for chlamydia at least once a year. Since most people with chlamydia don’t have symptoms, the CDC recommends that sexually active people get tested regularly.
Use barrier protection for all sexual activity. Barriers, like condoms, keep chlamydia from being passed from person to person. Chlamydia can be passed in all bodily fluids, so make sure to use condoms during all types of sexual activity.
Make sure your partner gets tested. Have an honest conversation with your partner(s) — encourage them to get tested for chlamydia. This will help protect you and will also keep them safe from chlamydia complications
Take all your antibiotics. If you get diagnosed with chlamydia — make sure you finish all the antibiotics prescribed, even if you feel healthy and don’t have any symptoms.
Chlamydia is very common, especially in sexually active people between 18 and 29 years old. Most people with chlamydia don’t have any symptoms, but they can still get complications and pass the bacteria to others. Fortunately, antibiotics can cure chlamydia. If you are sexually active, use barrier methods and get tested for chlamydia regularly to keep yourself safe.
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de Voux, A., et al. (2016). Notes from the field: Cluster of lymphogranuloma venereum cases among men who have sex with men. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
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