Chlamydia

What is it?

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria.

It is an infection of the reproductive and/or urinary tracts (and sometimes of the throat or rectum). It is possible to have other infections, such as gonorrhea, along with it. Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics.

How is it spread?

Chlamydia is spread by having unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex with a person who has it. Infected individuals are at increased risk of contracting and transmitting HIV.

What are the symptoms?

In most cases symptoms never appear and therefore you can pass on the infection without knowing it. Symptoms can develop between two to 10 days after possible exposure and may include the following:

Vaginal/cervical infection: Eighty per cent of vaginal/cervical infections are asymptomatic. Individuals with symptoms may notice unusual vaginal discharge, unusual odour, itching, painful penetration, bleeding with sexual intercourse, lower abdominal pain, heavier menstrual periods, and/or pain/burning during urination.

Urethral/penile infection: Fifty per cent of urethral/penile infections are asymptomatic. Individuals with symptoms may notice a discharge from their penis, burning or itching around the opening of the penis, pain/burning during urination, and/or swelling of the testicles.

Throat infection: Throat infections often have no symptoms at all however some may experience a sore throat.

Anal/rectal infection: Anal infections often have no symptoms at all. Some infected individuals may notice anal itching, painful bowel movements, an urgency to have a bowel movement, and/or anal discharge.

How is it diagnosed?

Vaginal/cervical: A swab is inserted into the vagina and a sample of secretions is taken from the cervix.

Urethral/penis: Diagnosis is usually made through a urine sample although, if discharge is present, a swab may also be taken. You should not urinate for one hour before the test.

Throat and rectum: Swabs are taken from the throat and/or rectum.

What are the complications?

Untreated chlamydia can cause serious infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can lead to increased risk of ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy in the fallopian tube), and/or miscarriage and infertility. As well, if left untreated chlamydia can also cause inflammation of the epididymis and arthritis (rare).  It can also cause an eye infection if the infected discharge touches the eye.

How is it treated?

Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics. It is important that you take all the pills as directed even if the symptoms have disappeared. Pelvic inflammatory disease may need hospitalization and treatment with intravenous antibiotics.

What about sexual partners?

All sexual partners within the past two months should be tested and, even if their test results are negative, they should be treated.  If you have not had sex in the past two months, your most recent partner(s) should be tested and treated.  Inform your partner(s) that not having symptoms does not mean that they do not have chlamydia.

Follow-up

In some cases you may be asked to have a follow-up test after treatment to make sure that the infection has cleared up.   Avoid having intercourse (oral, anal or vaginal ) until your partner(s) have been tested and treated as well.  If your partner(s) are not treated, there is a high risk that you will be re-infected.

Prevention

Using a condom every time you have oral, vaginal and anal sex will greatly reduce your chances of getting chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections.