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STI Info: Chlamydia

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Chlamydia is a bacterial infection caused by Chlamydia Trachomatis. It is the most frequently reported bacterial Sexually Transmitted Infection in the U.S. It is known as the "Silent" STI due to its lack of symptoms in most individuals who are infected. Chlamydia can do serious irreversible damage including infertility in women and sterility in men.

Topics

Symptoms

Chlamydia is known as the "silent" STI because of the lack of symptoms. According to the Center for Disease Control, 75 % of women and 50% of men with chlamydia never show any symptoms of the infection. If symptoms do occur, they usually appear between 1 and 3 weeks after exposure to the infection. Symptoms of chlamydia in women include:

  • Abdominal vaginal discharge
  • Burning with urination
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Low back pain
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Bleeding between menstrual periods

Symptoms in men include:

  • Penal discharge
  • Burning with urination
  • Burning and/or itching at the opening of the penis
  • Pain and swelling of the testicles (uncommon)

Cases

According to the Center for Disease Control, chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease in the United States.  In 2012, 1,422, 976 chlamydial infections were reported to CDC from 50 states and the District of Columbia which was a 0.7% increase from 2011. Almost 45% of all infections occurred in individuals ages 20-29. Each year, untreated STDs such as chlamydia cause at least 24,000 women in the U.S. to become infertile.

Transmission

Chlamydia is transmitted through sexual activity including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. In addition, it can be passed from a mother to a child during birth. Due to the fact that teenage girls and young women do not have a fully developed cervix, they are more susceptible to the bacterial infection than men or older women.

Male sex partners can pass chlamydia even if ejaculation is not reached. Even if you have been treated for chlamydia in the past, you can still get infected again if you have unprotected sex with someone with this STI. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Chlamydia can be diagnosed through a urine sample or through a specimen sample from the cervix or penis. Healthcare professionals analyze the specimens for bacteria to determine whether an individual has the bacterial infection.

Cure

Chlamydia can easily be treated and cured with antibiotics if found early enough. Although chlamydia can be cured, it is important to abstain from having sex at least for seven days after taking the antibiotics to prevent spreading of the infection to partners. Partners should be tested and treated for chlamydia to reduce re-infection. Re-infection is common due to partners not properly treated. Those with positive chlamydia tests should be retested three months after treatment of the initial infection, regardless of sexual partners were treated. 

Prevention and Risk Reduction

The only 100% effective way to prevent sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia is to abstain from sexual activity where there is a transmission of bodily fluids such as oral, anal, and vaginal sex. If you choose to be sexually active, being in a monogamous relationship with a partner who is not infected significantly reduces your risk of infection. In addition, reducing your number of sexual partners can help to reduce your risk. Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, may reduce the risk of a chlamydia infection. 

Annual chlamydia screening is recommended for all sexually active women under the age of 25. Women over 25 should be tested if risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner with an STI. All pregnant women should also be screened for chlamydia early in their pregnancy to reduce transmission of the STI to their infant. All sexually active gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men should be screened every 3-6 months, and between new partners. Men and women who engage in unprotected sex are most susceptible to STIs and should be tested between partners and annually.