Chlamydia is treatable. But the nature of its symptoms might make it go unnoticeable until it has done considerable damage to the body.
Learn more about this infection, including its symptoms, transmission, treatment and possible complications.
What is Chlamydia?
The bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis causes chlamydia, or more precisely a chlamydia infection. It is not a major health threat, but it has the potential to become one when it is not treated early.
The name of the bacterium came from a Greek word that translates to “cloak”. This came from a wrong assumption of it “cloaking” infected cells’ nuclei.
Chlamydia bacteria are dependent on the host cells for survival. They continue to thrive in infected individuals for as long as they have access to nutrients from the diets of their hosts.
The infection is quite common. This is mainly because the people who have it are often not aware and so continue to spread it unknowingly.
Symptoms of a Chlamydia Infection
If they are present, one of the symptoms that chlamydia can produce is redness or inflammation of the eye, conjunctivitis.
Painful or burning sensation when passing urine is another likely pointer to this infection.
The kinds of symptoms a person may notice also depend on whether they are male or female.
Signs and Symptoms in women
The following are some possible signs and symptoms of chlamydia in women:
- An increase in vaginal discharge, which might have an odor, as a result of an inflammation of the cervix.
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Painful periods
- Bleeding between periods or after sexual intercourse
- Itching around the genitalia
- Lower abdominal pain, possibly accompanied by fever
Signs and Symptoms in men
Infected males may exhibit the following, among others:
- Swelling and/or pain around the testicles
- Clear or cloudy discharge from the urethral opening
- Burning or itching around the urethral opening
These symptoms can show up within 1-3 weeks after exposure. However, they can take several months before manifesting in some other people. Still, some persons don’t even notice any symptoms until it has spread to other areas of their bodies.
It is more likely for women to pass on chlamydia infection without knowing. Roughly 75% of females having it do not show symptoms. By comparison, about 50 percent of infected men do not produce symptoms.
How Does One Get Chlamydia?
The Chlamydia trachomatis bacterium is present in infected seminal and vaginal fluids. Therefore, you can get it through sexual acts – vaginal, oral, or anal.
It is also possible to get it through direct contact with a tissue that is infected, such as the conjunctiva. A pregnant woman with chlamydia infection can transmit it to her baby during childbirth as well.
People who are at great risk of becoming infected include:
- Persons who have sex without using a condom or dental dam
- Those that have multiple sex partners
- People sharing sex toys that aren’t washed between uses or covered with a fresh condom before another person uses them
It is not until there is penile penetration or you engage in a sexual act that you can contract chlamydia. People do get infected without an orgasm or ejaculation occurring. An infection may also occur when you touch the semen or vaginal fluid from an infected person.
Researchers revealed in a Global Burden of Disease Study report that there were about 61 million chlamydia cases globally in 2015.
The infection occurs more among women, according to estimates by experts.
Of all sexually transmitted infections, this one ranks among the most prevalent. The CDC says it accounts for the highest proportion of all reported STD cases since 1994.
In America, chlamydia incidence has been on an upward trajectory, almost consistently, in the past 1-2 decades. It rose from about 251 to 453 cases per 100,000 population between 2000 and 2011. The reported cases were up to roughly 540 per 100,000 population in 2018.
The 2018 Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance report shows that there were more than 1.7 million cases during the year. According to the CDC, the actual number of cases should be significantly greater when considering the many cases that are not reported.
How to Test for Chlamydia
From the foregoing, it is clear that you might not know if you are infected with the chlamydia bacterium. You will only know by having laboratory tests.
There are diverse tests your doctor might advise to find out whether you have the infection. Currently, the major ones are nucleic acid amplification (NAA) tests, such as the DNA strand displacement amplification (SDA) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
A lab technician only needs a urine sample or swab to carry out a test. The swab could be from the vagina, penis tip, cervix, rectum, or throat.
It could be embarrassing for some people to seek testing for STIs. If you are one of such, you may use the STDCheck service, which has thousands of centers nationwide. It’s FDA-cleared NAA testing is discreet and results are usually ready in 1-2 days.
Doctors typically treat chlamydia using oral antibiotics. The popular ones include azithromycin (Zithromax), doxycycline, and erythromycin.
It takes about a week for the infection to clear up with antibiotics. However, you should endeavor to complete the full course if the symptoms vanish earlier.
Women having advanced chlamydia infections may require intravenous antibiotics.
Failure to treat chlamydia promptly and properly increases your risk of getting other STIs.
In men, it can lead to epididymitis (inflammation of the epididymis), a condition that can result in sterility in rare cases. The infection can also produce prostatitis and urethritis.
Women with untreated chlamydia can develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). They can also experience inflammation of both the womb and the fallopian tubes.
Pregnant women with the infection can pass it on to the babies in their womb. They may experience premature birth or abortion.
This “silent epidemic” should not be handled lightly. It can cause considerable damage when not treated early and suitably.