Chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) in North America. Caused by the bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis, it can be transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal childbirth.
Chlamydia is known as a "silent" infection because it can cause irreversible damage to a woman's reproductive organs before she even recognizes she has the infection. About 40 to 70 percent of infected people don't have symptoms. That's why infected individuals often keep transmitting the bacteria to new partners without realizing it.
If symptoms do occur, they may appear as early as 5 to 10 days after exposure. For a woman, symptoms may include:
For a man, symptoms may include:
Chlamydia may also cause an infected pregnant woman to go into premature labour and delivery. In addition, her newborn child may develop conjunctivitis (infection of the lining of the eye) and pneumonia.
In Canada, early data for 2004 shows that the rate of chlamydia infection rose by 74.2 percent from 1997 to 2004. In 2003, that rate of chlamydia infection was about 180 infected people for every 100,000 people. The highest rate observed among young people between the ages of 15 and 19. It is also common among older populations as well. Those at risk include:
If you (or your partner) are having sex with more than one partner and especially if you have taken any chances recently, go to your local clinic or see your doctor and ask to be tested. There are a variety of methods for diagnosing chlamydia, but the most common ones still rely on the taking of a bacterial swab from either the vagina or the urethra. A first morning urine sample may also be taken. Depending on the type of technique used to test the sample, test results are available immediately or within 48 hours.
Note: Chlamydia has similar symptoms as gonorrhea but requires a different treatment. They are often acquired jointly but are treated with different medication. Be sure to get screened and treated for both STIs at the same time.
Treatment is simple and effective, typically using antibiotics such as doxycycline or azithromycin. When picking up your medication at the drugstore, make sure your pharmacist is aware if you are pregnant or are undergoing treatment for another STI.
Infected individuals should refrain from unprotected sex until the treatment course is completed (refrain for 7 days following a single dose treatment).
All sexual partners must be treated. Since you can't become immune to chlamydia, you can become repeatedly infected if your partner(s) still has it.
Abstinence from sex or a monogamous sexual relationship with a known healthy partner are the best ways to avoid getting chlamydia. Otherwise, using a condom or a dental dam will help reduce your chances of infection.
If you are at risk, be sure to get screened for chlamydia regularly; talk to your doctor about how often is best. If pregnant, make sure to get screened immediately.
Complications in women with untreated chlamydia are well documented. In up to 40 percent of such women, the infection spreads to the uterus or fallopian tubes and causes pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The scarring from PID can lead to chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus, which can be fatal).
Complications from an untreated infection in men are not as well known. The infection may spread to the epididymis (the tube that carries sperm from the testis) and cause pain and fever. Complications also include prostatitis, and, rarely, sterility.
People with untreated chlamydia may go on to develop Reiter's syndrome, an arthritis-like condition that can damage the joints and eyes. They are also 3 to 5 times more likely to contract HIV than other people, if exposed.
Practising safe sex and using a condom are important preventive measures to help decrease the risk of becoming infected with chlamydia - or any other STI.
For more information :
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Sexuality and U
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.