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Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that can sometimes go undetected but often causes unpleasant symptoms.
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Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium chlamydia trachmatis, and it can pass from one person to another through coming into contact with infected semen or vaginal fluid, usually by having unprotected sex.
There are a few different ways in which you can contract chlamydia, the most usual being unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. But something as simple as contact between your genitals and your partner’s can lead to transmission, even if there’s no ejaculation, orgasm or penetrative sex.
You can get it from infected vaginal fluid or from semen getting into your eye too. Chlamydia can also be transmitted through sharing sex toys that haven’t been washed properly, or that are covered by a condom that has already been used by someone who’s infected.
Anyone who is sexually active can contract chlamydia. But your risk of getting it increases by having unprotected sex with someone who’s already infected. You may have chlamydia without realising as not everyone gets symptoms, so having unprotected sex is always a risk. You can also pass the infection on to your baby if you’re pregnant, so you should be extra careful and use contraception like a condom.
Unlike other sexually transmitted diseases, you can’t get chlamydia from toilet seats, sharing baths, swimming pools, sharing cutlery, kissing or hugging.
Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs; around 130 million people have it across the globe. A study carried out in 2016 estimated that there were 34 cases of chlamydia per 1000 women, and 33 cases per 1000 men. The figures could be even higher since a lot of the time people experience no symptoms and can be unaware of the infection.
Chlamydia is usually easy to manage and treat if it’s tackled early on, but it can become a serious problem if it’s not addressed. So it’s important to get tested regularly for STIs if you’re sexually active to make sure that you get treatment promptly should a problem arise. If there’s any possibility that you’ve been exposed to chlamydia, you can order a test from us or upload your results for treatment.
Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis and syphilis: global prevalence and incidence estimates, 2016
Pregnancy and fertility-related adverse outcomes associated with Chlamydia trachomatis infection: a global systematic review and meta-analysis. Sexually Transmitted Infections, p.sextrans-2019-053999.
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Chlamydia is caused by a bacterium called chlamydia trachomatis. This bacteria transfers from one person to another through unprotected sex or contact with infected vaginal fluids or semen. So you can contract chlamydia even if there’s no penetrative sex. The infection spreads inside the body when the infected cells multiply.
The infection isn’t limited to the genital area. Women can get chlamydia in the cervix, rectum, or throat, and men can get it in the urethra (inside of the penis), rectum, or throat. And if you’ve had chlamydia in the past and received treatment for it, you can still get re-infected should you have unprotected sex with someone who has it. There’s also the possibility of transmitting the infection to your baby during childbirth.
Chlamydia can be a silent condition, meaning that you can be a carrier of the infection without showing or feeling any symptoms. This happens in many cases, so there’s a chance that you may have unprotected sex with someone who carries chlamydia without them being aware of it. So the safest route is to wear a condom and get regularly tested.
If you do get chlamydia symptoms, they will usually appear anywhere between one and three weeks after having unprotected sex or contact with genital fluids with someone who’s infected. But it may also take months for you to develop any symptoms.
Sometimes symptoms may clear up after a couple of days, but that doesn’t mean that the bacteria are gone from your system. You can still have chlamydia and pass it on to sexual partners unless you get treatment.
At least 70% of women carrying the chlamydia bacteria don’t have any symptoms or they’re so subtle that the carrier doesn’t notice them. If you do get symptoms, they may include:
At least 50% of men with chlamydia have no clear symptoms. But if they do get symptoms, they might include:
If you experience any of these symptoms but haven’t had unprotected sex in a while, it’s better to get tested anyway because you might have been carrying the infection and only just became symptomatic.
Yes. Although chlamydia is easy to treat when it’s diagnosed early on, if you don’t get help as soon as possible it can lead to complications.
In men, chlamydia can cause serious swelling in the testicles and in the epididymis (the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles) and this can have a long term impact on fertility.
If you have unprotected anal sex, chlamydia can also infect the rectum and cause general discomfort, itching, a burning sensation, and rectal discharge. It can also affect the throat if you have unprotected oral sex, and the eyes if any infected semen or vaginal fluid comes into contact with them.
Chlamydia Trachomatis (Swab) - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center.
Treatment Effectiveness of Azithromycin and Doxycycline in Uncomplicated Rectal and Vaginal Chlamydia trachomatis Infections in Women: A Multicenter Observational Study (FemCure). Clinical Infectious Diseases, 69(11), pp.1946–1954.
The ‘go-to’ option when prescribing a treatment for chlamydia is Doxycycline. But if for any reason you can’t take it, Azithromycin will be prescribed as an alternative. If neither of these treatments are suitable because you have an allergy, for example, Amoxicillin and Erythromycin can also be prescribed. These are safe options if you’re pregnant too.
Antibiotics prescribed to treat chlamydia usually work by giving the immune system time to fight off the infection before the bacteria spread throughout the body.
There isn’t a ‘best’ treatment as such, as each person has specific health needs that will require different medications. But taking into account your health background and your current situation, we can help to find the right medication for you.
The first option our clinicians will explore with you is Doxycycline, but it will not be prescribed to you if you have a history of allergy to antibiotics, if you’re pregnant or if you’re prone to any specific side effects like sensitivity to sunlight and stomach upset. If that’s the case, Azithromycin will likely be the best treatment option for you.
Yes. Even if your chlamydia symptoms end up disappearing, the infection can remain asymptomatic in your body if it’s not treated, and you can still transmit it to a sexual partner or even to your baby during childbirth.
The treatment for chlamydia is only a short course. It usually lasts for just one week if you’re taking Doxycycline, and two days if you’re taking Azythromycin. And since treatment is so highly effective with the right medication, you are likely to overcome the infection quickly.
Treatment - Chlamydia. NHS.
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