“I never thought it would happen to me,” is the most common response when I inform a patient they have a sexually transmitted infection.
The hard to accept truth is that any sexually active person in a nonmonogamous relationship is potentially at risk. Chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Chlamydia is known as the “silent infection. ” Most have no symptoms at all.
What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia, caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Although easily treated with antibiotics, many infections are unrecognized. Testing is required to find it. When infections are left unchecked, chlamydia can lead to male and female infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and pelvic pain.
Chlamydia initially infects the penis and the cervix (the opening of the uterus at the back of the vagina). In women, chlamydia can progress to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID occurs when bacteria spread from the cervix to the fallopian tubes. PID may result in scar tissue and permanent damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus, and surrounding tissues. In men, chlamydia can spread to the tubes surrounding the testicles causing epididymitis.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
Chlamydia is known as the “silent infection.” Asymptomatic carriers pass the infection from one partner to another. An asymptomatic carrier is someone who has the disease but does not know it. Without testing, people who do not know they have chlamydia unknowingly spread the infection to their partners.
Women typically are also asymptomatic. Some may notice unusual vaginal discharge or burning with urination. Some may experience irregular vaginal bleeding or spotting. If chlamydia spreads beyond the cervix, one may develop lower abdominal pain, low back pain, nausea, fever, pain during intercourse, or bleeding between menstrual periods.
How is chlamydia transmitted?
There are two ways most STDs are transmitted: fluid transmission or skin-to-skin contact. Chlamydia is a fluid transmitted infection. Chlamydia is transmitted when bodily fluids from one person are shared with another via vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Fluids are present in the vagina, penis mouth, and anus. Infections can occur even without ejaculation.
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
How is Chlamydia diagnosed?
Testing is required to diagnose chlamydia. A physical exam is not reliable to diagnose this infection. A healthcare provider will obtain a specimen from the cervix, anus, throat, penis, or urine. Results are usually available within 1–2 days.
The CDC recommends women under age 26, and those with risk factors get tested every year. Risk factors include new sex partners, multiple sex partners, men who have sex with men, a sex partner with concurrent partners, and a partner who has a sexually transmitted infection.
How is Chlamydia treated?
Fortunately, chlamydia is a curable STD. It is easily treated with antibiotics. such as Azithromycin or Doxycycline.
Chlamydia in pregnancy
During pregnancy, untreated Chlamydia can lead to preterm labor, preterm rupture of membranes (water breaking), and premature delivery. Pregnant women may pass chlamydial infections to their babies during delivery which may result in infections in the eyes or lungs.
Prevention is key
Prevention is best achieved by abstinence from sexual activity or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship. The use of latex condoms consistently and correctly can reduce the risk of transmission.
Condoms are highly effective in preventing fluid transmitted STDs. Water-based lubricants should be used with latex condoms to provide the most protection.
The CDC recommends annual screening for all sexually active individuals younger than 26. Men and women with risk factors, including a new sex partner or multiple sex partners, should undergo testing. All pregnant women should undergo testing for chlamydia. Women and men with new partners should be tested for all sexually transmitted diseases.
Blog Author: Dr. Jeff Livingston