Chlamydia is a bacteria – Chlamydia trachomatis – that commonly affects the urethra (urinary tract – males and females) and cervix (in females). It is the most prevalent (common) STI, and if left untreated it can cause infertility in men and women.
Chlamydia can be passed on through oral sex (with males or females), causing infection in the throat. It can also be passed on through anal and vaginal sex (in the absence of condoms), causing infection in the genitals or anus. Infection can also be transferred from the fingers (from touching the genitals) to other parts of the body (e.g. eyes). Chlamydia is NOT transmitted through casual contact, nor through kissing, handshaking, sharing towels, cups etc.
Condoms and dams are the best form of prevention, although they may not prevent all infection risks. It is important to avoid sex until the infection clears up (through treatment – see below) and inform sexual partners (see STI Prevention – Contact Tracing) to prevent transmission and reinfection. You can get chlamydia again even if you had it before.
Regular testing is recommended, every 3 months if you are sexually active and at risk, because most people do not develop any symptoms of Chlamydia. A urine test or swab of the penis or vagina/cervix (or anal swab) is undertaken with your doctor.
If symptoms do occur (usually within 2-14 days) a clear or cloudy discharge (which can be smelly) can occur from the penis or vagina, and a burning pain when passing urine. Infection in the anus (known as ‘rectal chlamydia’) can cause a similar discharge from the anus. For women, it may also incur pain during sex, cramps in the lower abdomen, and bleeding between periods (menstrual cycle). Symptoms of Chlamydia can be similar to gonorrhoea.
Treatment for Chlamydia can be effective and simple with a single dose of antibiotic, but longer treatment can sometimes be required with symptomatic illness (until symptoms clear up). Without treatment the infection can spread causing testes pain (in men) and contribute to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, and lead to bladder inflammation (cystitis) and infertility. It can also be passed on a new born baby during childbirth, and during pregnancy may cause premature birth, miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy (outside the womb).