What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia, which is caused by the microorganism Chlamydia Trachomatis is a common bacterial STI. Chlamydia is a major cause of non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU), cervicitis, bacterial vaginitis, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Chlamydia infections may have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, so they are often overlooked. However, left untreated these infections can lead to serious damage to the reproductive organs, particularly in women.

What transmits chlamydia?

Chlamydia infections are usually transmitted during contact with the genital, mouth,or rectal area of an infected person. Chlamydia is not transmitted through casual contact (toilet seats, hot tubs, saunas, or swimming pools). A person can be infected,not have symptoms, and transmit chlamydia without knowing it.

Is it easy to recognize a chlamydia infection?

Up to 75% of women and 50 percent of men with uncomplicated chlamydia infection have no symptoms or signs of infection. If symptoms do occur, they typically appear within one to three weeks after exposure to an infected person and may include the following:

For men

Pain or burning during urination
Pain and swelling in the testicles
Burning and itching around the opening of the penis
Watery or milky discharge from the penis
Frequent urination
Low-grade fever

For women

Irregular vaginal bleeding
Itching and burning in the genital area
Lower abdominal pain often accompanied by nausea and fever
Low back pain
Burning with urination
Vaginal discharge
Pain during intercourse

When should I see my health care provider?

Early diagnosis and treatment of chlamydia infections are critical. See your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of the symptoms listed above or if you suspect that you have another STI. You should also have a screening test for chlamydia if you are currently sexually active and your partner has been diagnosed and treated for chlamydia.

How is chlamydia diagnosed?

A diagnosis of chlamydia is made with one of several types of laboratory tests.It should be noted, however, that since the sensitivity of the diagnostic test for chlamydia is only about 94%, some positive cases will be missed.

How is chlamydia treated?

Chlamydia is one of the most treatable STIs, especially when detected early. The cure rate is greater than 95%. The infection is usually treated with antibiotics.If there is a doubt, treatment with antibiotics may also be suggested even if the test results are negative or if you have not been tested for the disease. It is better to be treated than to wait or ignore a possible infection, as untreated chlamydia can have long term negative consequences (see below). It is important to take the full course of antibiotics, even if symptoms disappear, and to return for a follow-up examination. All exposed sexual partners should be referred for evaluation and treatment.

Immunity does not develop after being infected; therefore, an individual can be infected with chlamydia more than once. To prevent re-infection, infected people should refrain from genital-genital contact and intercourse until they and their partner(s) have completed treatment. While condoms provide some protection, their possibility of breaking suggests that it is best to refrain from intercourse until treatment is completed.

What are the risks if chlamydia is not treated?

Chlamydia infections can create serious health problems if left untreated. In women a chlamydial infection may begin at the cervix and spread upward to the uterus,the fallopian tubes, or to the ovaries. This may result in pelvis inflammatory disease (PID), a serious infection which can scar and block fallopian tubes, causing sterility,infertility, or ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. In men, Chlamydia is the leading cause of non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) which on occasion causes epididymitis, an inflammation of the epididymis (located adjacent to the testicle). Epididymitis can lead to sterility in men.

Source: Sexually Transmitted Diseases, (Bethesda, MD: Office of Communications,National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health,US Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, January 1992).
Chlamydia Disease Information, (CDC National Center for HIV and STD and TB prevention,Division of STDs, May 2001)