Chlamydia

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Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the US. It’s caused by bacteria that can infect the vagina, cervix, fallopian tubes, anus, urethra, throat, or eye.

How common is chlamydia?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 708,569 cases of chlamydia were reported in 2017 (in the United States) which is a 22% increase from 2013. It is likely that there are many more people with chlamydia who haven’t been diagnosed because they’ve never had symptoms. Additionally, the rates of chlamydia are highest among women between 15-24 years old.

Who is most likely to get chlamydia?

Chlamydia is most common among:

  • People under age 25
  • People who have more than one sexual partner
  • People whose sexual partners have more than one partner
  • People who don’t use condoms
  • People with a history of STIs

Talk to your health care provider if you think you might be at risk for chlamydia

How is chlamydia spread?

Chlamydia is spread from person-to-person during unprotected sex. It can be passed through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. It can also be passed to the eye by a hand or other body part moistened with infected secretions. Chlamydia can be passed from a woman infected with chlamydia to her baby during delivery. Chlamydia cannot be spread by kissing, toilet seats, bed linens, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, silverware, or sharing clothes.

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

The majority of people who have chlamydia do not have symptoms. Only about 10% of men and 5-30% of women with chlamydia will have symptoms. If symptoms happen, they usually start anywhere from 1-3 weeks after becoming infected.  People without symptoms can have complications from the infection and pass it to sexual partners.

Symptoms of chlamydia can include:

  • Bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Vaginal bleeding after intercourse
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Fever
  • A burning feeling when urinating
  • The need to urinate more than usual
  • A new or different discharge from the vagina
  • Pain, itching, bleeding, and/or mucus discharge of the rectum (for chlamydia in the anus)
  • Redness, itching, and/or discharges of the eyes (for chlamydia in the eyes)

These symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of gonorrhea, another STI.

Where can I get tested and treated for chlamydia?

You can be tested and treated for chlamydia at family planning health centers, private doctors’ offices, STI clinics, hospital clinics, and health departments. If you are less than 25 years old and have ever had sexual intercourse, talk to your health care provider about getting tested for chlamydia at least once a year and more often if you change sex partners, or you have had chlamydia or other STIs before.

How is chlamydia diagnosed?

Your health care provider can diagnose chlamydia by testing samples from the urine, vagina, or cervix. You may be asked to collect a urine sample in a cup or a sample from your vagina with a small swab. Your health care provider can also collect a sample from the vagina or cervix by doing a pelvic exam. It’s important to get a test in order to tell if you have gonorrhea or chlamydia. They have very similar symptoms, but each infection needs a different treatment. If you or your partner(s) has a positive chlamydia test, you may need to have further testing to check for other possible infections.

Is there a cure for chlamydia?

Yes. Chlamydia is easy to treat and cure, but remember that just because you’ve had it once doesn’t mean you can’t get infected again. It’s important that you get treated early so that more serious health problems don’t occur. Both sexual partners must get treated at the same time so you don’t re-infect each other. Your health care provider will either give you a single dose of medicine (azithromycin) to take in the office before you leave or a prescription to fill (doxycycline) that you will need to take 2 times a day, for 7 days. Your health care provider will decide which medicine is right for you. Remember to take ALL of the medicine as prescribed, even if the symptoms go away. This is because the infection can still be in your body. In some cases, like pregnancy or history of multiple infections, your health care provider may decide to repeat a chlamydia test after treatment to make sure the infection is gone.

Is chlamydia dangerous?

If chlamydia is not treated, it can cause serious health problems. The infection usually begins on the cervix, but if it’s not treated, it can spread to the fallopian tubes and/or ovaries and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID causes pain in the lower part of your abdomen (belly) and can lead to problems with getting pregnant or with ectopic or tubal pregnancy (pregnancy in the fallopian tubes), upper belly pain (liver inflammation or “Fitz-Hugh-Curtis Syndrome) and chronic pelvic pain. The risk of these complications increases with multiple infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10-15% of women who have untreated chlamydia will have symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). If pregnant, chlamydia increases the risk of pre-term (early) delivery and infections in the eyes (conjunctivitis) or lungs (pneumonia) of the baby.

How can I prevent spreading chlamydia?

If you think you have chlamydia, the first thing you need to do is stop having sexual intercourse until you get tested and treated. Ask your health care provider if you can get a prescription for your partner (this is called expedited partner therapy, or EPT), or find out if your partner can be seen by a health care provider to get treated. You’ll need to let all current and past sexual partners know that you have chlamydia (anyone that you have had vaginal, anal or oral sex with in the past 60 days – or the most recent sexual partners). You may find this hard to do, but it’s very important so that those infected can get treated before more serious health problems occur.

You can do this in a couple of different ways:

  • You can tell them face to face, over the phone or via a text message.
  • You can use an anonymous notification application, such as: an email from a reliable website such as org. This website will send a confidential email card to your partner(s) for free. Another website, inspot.orgwill send an anonymous text to your partner(s).

Research has shown that notifying your partner(s) in real time or face to face is the best way to get your partner treated.

Remember: Don’t have sex until you have finished treatment and your health care provider tells you that it’s OK to have sex. Generally that means waiting at least one week after you were treated with azithromycin or after you have completed 7 days of doxycycline. You also have to wait until your partner(s) have been treated to avoid getting infected again. Make sure you use a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

How can I avoid getting chlamydia?

The best way to lower your risk of getting chlamydia is not to have sexual intercourse. However, if you decide to have sexual intercourse, make sure you use a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

What types of birth control protect against chlamydia?

The only types of birth control that protect against chlamydia are male latex and polyurethane condoms and female condoms. Latex condoms are the best protection against chlamydia. Polyurethane condoms and female condoms also provide some protection against chlamydia.