Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the world and in America there are around three million cases reported each year.
A relatively “modern” disease, it was discovered in humans in 1907 but it wasn’t recognised as a sexually transmitted disease until 1963.
Chlamydia is the Latin form of the Greek word “khlamys” which means “cloak”. It describes the way chlamydia cells wrap around the nucleus of the infected cell.
It’s a serious disease that can lead to permanent damage to the human reproductive system, blindness and pneumonia.
What makes chlamydia especially dangerous is the fact that it is a “silent disease” which means that most people who are infected don’t show any symptoms.
9 facts about chlamydia
1. Chlamydia trachomatis is one of the 10 most common STIs. The others are: gonorrhea, hepatitis, syphilis, crabs (pubic lice), human papillomavirus (HPV), bacterial vaginosis (BV), herpes, trichomoniasis and HIV/Aids.
2. Chlamydia is spread by unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with a person who has the disease. A male partner doesn’t have to ejaculate for the bacteria to be transmitted. Chlamydia is unlikely to be passed on by non-sexual physical contact.
3. 70–90 percent of women and 90 percent of men with chlamydia don’t have any symptoms. If there are symptoms, they will only appear several weeks after having sex with an infected person. Possible symptoms are:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Painful intercourse
- A penile discharge
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Swelling and pain in both or either of the testicles
Both men and women can get rectal chlamydia, usually from anal sex. Possible symptoms include:
- Anal discharge
- Rectal pain
Chlamydia can also infect the throat and the eyes. In addition it can be passed onto a child by a mother during the birth process, which may lead to eye infection or pneumonia.
4. A great danger of chlamydia is that it can cause serious and potentially permanent damage to the reproductive system. This may lead to infertility – mainly as a result of damage to the fallopian tubes in women (tubal infertility).
5. Examples of complications caused by chlamydia are:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) occurs in about 20 percent of women as a complication of chlamydia. PID is an infection of the ovaries , fallopian tubes and uterus which increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy.
- Cervicitis – inflammation of the cervix
- Salpingitis – inflammation of the fallopian tubes
- Bartholinitis – inflammation of the Bartholin gland, which produces the lubricating mucus to make sexual intercourse easier
- Sperm cells and therefore fertility can be affected
- Urethritis – when the urethra becomes inflamed
- Epididymitis – when the epididymis inside the scrotum becomes inflamed
- Reiter syndrome – a type of inflammatory arthritis that can involve the joints, eyes and a number of other parts of the body
6. There are several tests for chlamydia. Tests called NAATs (nucleic acid amplification tests) are easy and accurate.
7. Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics, most commonly azithromycin and doxycycline. Sexual partners should also be tested and, if necessary, treated for the disease. The patient and partner/s should abstain from sex until healed. (Patients should bear in mind that due to overuse antibiotics are in many cases not as effective as they used to be.)
8. A person with chlamydia is contagious as long as they have not been medically treated and/or are still infected with the disease.
9. The best ways to avoid getting infected with chlamydia are sexual abstinence, sticking to one sexual partner (monogamy) and the consistent use of latex condoms.