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What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a curable infection caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. The bacteria targets the cells of the mucous membrane lining of the eyelid, the surfaces of the urethra, endocervix, endometrium and fallopian tubes. Other sites of chlamydia colonization are the the mucosal surfaces of the rectum and pharynx.

How common is chlamydia?
In the United States, chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted disease (STD), particularly among sexually active adolescents and young adults. In 1997, 526,653 cases of chlamydia were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); however, it is estimated that 3 million cases actually occurred. As many as one in 10 adolescent females test positive for chlamydia.

How can I get chlamydia?
Chlamydia is passed primarily during anal or vaginal sex. It is less likely to be transmitted through oral sex. Chlamydia can be passed even if the penis or tongue does not go all the way into the vagina, mouth or rectum, and even if body fluids are not exchanged.

Eye infections in adults may result when discharge caries the disease into the eye during sex or hand-to-eye contact.

It can also be passed from mother to newborn as the baby passes through the infected birth canal. This may result in eye infections or pneumonia.

Chlamydia is not passed through things like hand shakes or toilet seats.

What are the signs and symptoms of chlamydia?
Most women and some men do not experience symptoms. In most men, symptoms usually develop within seven to 21 days after exposure to chlamydia. It is hard to say how long someone with chlamydia is infectious because many people are asymptomatic. A person must be considered infectious from the time they become infected until treatment is completed. The symptoms of chlamydia are similar to the symptoms of gonorrhea and the two infections are often confused.

Men, women and infants
Both men and women might experience proctitis (inflamed rectum), urethritis (inflamed urethra) and conjunctivitis.

The most common complications in newborns include conjunctivitis and pneumonia.

Women
Most women are asymptomatic, but if symptoms are present they may be minor. Symptoms may include:

  • vaginal discharge
  • abdominal pain

Men
Men may be asymptomatic or symptoms may be minor. When symptomatic, most men experience:

  • discharge from the penis
  • pain or burning during urination

How can I find out if I have chlamydia?
There are several different reliable testing options for chlamydia. It may be helpful to speak to your health care provider about what testing options are available.


Nucleic acid amplification tests (also called PCR, LCR, SDA, or TMA tests) detect the bacteria that cause chlamydia by identifying a strand of the bacterial DNA. These are reliable tests that can be done on urine or a sample of secretions from the potentially infected area (the urethra or cervix). They are not currently approved for use on secretions from the rectum or throat. These tests can detect both chlamydia and gonorrhea from just one patient sample. Although nucleic acid amplification tests are FDA-approved, they may not be available in all clinics.

Chlamydia culture tests look for chlamydia in specimens taken from the potentially infected area.

DNA probe tests use a sample of secretions from the potentially infected area to test for chlamydia. This testing method may be less expensive than other culture methods.
Antibody (EIA) testing is also done by taking a sample of secretions from the potentially infected area. It is less technically demanding and less expensive than other tests but not as reliable.

People infected with gonorrhea are often co-infected with chlamydia; therefore, in patients with gonorrhea treatment is often prescribed for chlamydia, since the cost of treatment is less than the cost of testing for chlamydia.

What is the treatment for chlamydia?
Health care providers usually give patients one of two medicines to treat chlamydia:

Doxycycline
Azithromycin
(The advantage of azithromycin is that it can be administered in a single dose.)

Alternative treatments for chlamydia include:

  • Erythromycin
  • Ofloxacin

NOTE: Doxycycline and Ofloxacin are not advised for pregnant women. Instead, it is recommended that they take:

  • Erythromycin
  • Amoxicillin
  • Azithromycin

Because the symptoms of chlamydia are similar to the symtpoms of gonorrhea, and because a person can be infected with both, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with gonorrhea be treated for both gonorrhea and chlamydia. Partners should be examined and treated as well.

 

What can I do to reduce my risk of getting chlamydia?

  • Abstinence (not having sex)
  • Mutual monogamy (having sex with only one uninfected partner)
  • Water-based spermicides are recommended for vaginal intercourse. Use of spermicide is not recommended nor found to be effective for oral or anal intercourse.
  • Latex condoms for vaginal, oral and anal sex.
  • Since chlamydia can be transmitted even if the penis or tongue does not completely enter the vagina, mouth or rectum, using latex condoms at the beginning of sexual contact until there is no longer skin contact is the best form of prevention.

Why worry about chlamydia?
In Women, untreated chlamydia infections in women may lead to:

  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID is a serious infection of a woman's reproductive organs.
  • Infertility
  • Cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder)
  • Mucopurulent (muke-o-PURE-you-lent) cervicitis, which is a yellow discharge from the cervix

In Men, untreated chlamydia in men, may experience:

  • Prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland)
  • Urethral scarring
  • Infertility
  • Epididymitis (inflammation of the epididymis, which are the elongated, cord-like structure that runs along the back of the testes.)
  • Reiter's syndrome (inflammation of the joints)

Do I need to talk to my partner about chlamydia?
Yes. Telling a partner can be hard, but keep in mind that most people with chlamydia don't know they have it. It's important that you talk to your partner as soon as possible so she or he can get treatment. Also, it is possible to pass chlamydia back and forth, so if you get treated and your partner doesn't, you may get infected again.

Should I talk to my health care provider about chlamydia?
Yes. Because chlamydia often does not have symptoms, you may need to talk to your doctor about whether or not you should be tested. If you are having unprotected sex or discover that your partner is having unprotected sex with another person, you may want to ask your doctor about being tested.

Where can I get more information?
If you have additional questions about chlamydia, call the National STD and AIDS Hotlines at 1-800-342-2437 or 1-800-227-8922. The hotlines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For information in Spanish call 1-800-344-7432, 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Eastern Time, seven days a week. For the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing call 1-800-243-7889, 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. T

he hotlines provide referrals and more answers to your questions. Be sure to request free printed information on chlamydia when you call the hotline.

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