One of the United States’ most common sexually transmitted diseases is Chlamydia. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. This bacterium is transmitted via semen and vaginal secretions during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) refers to Chlamydia as a "silent" disease because the majority of infected people have no symptoms. WebMD says about 75 percent of infections in women and 50 percent in men are without symptoms.
For those who do get symptoms, they typically appear within one to three weeks after exposure to Chlamydia.
WebMD lists Chlamydia symptoms in women as abnormal vaginal discharge that may have an odor; bleeding between periods, painful periods, abdominal pain with fever, pain when having sex, itching or burning in or around the vagina and/or pain when urinating.
WebMD says Chlamydia symptoms in men include small amounts of clear or cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis, painful urination, burning and itching around the opening of the penis and pain and swelling around the testicles.
The good news is Chlamydia can be easily treated with antibiotics. But NIH says sexual partners must both be treated to prevent passing the infection back and forth. They must take all the medicine and abstain from sex during that time. The CDC warns women whose sex partners haven’t been appropriately treated are at high risk for re-infection.
If Chlamydia goes untreated, it can cause serious health problems in both the short term and long term. WebMD says Chlamydia infection can cause pelvic inflammatory disease which can lead to damage of the fallopian tubes and even cause infertility. Untreated chlamydia infection could also increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy. Furthermore, chlamydia may cause premature births and the infection can be passed along from mother to child during childbirth.
According to the CDC, complications in men are rare. Infection sometimes spreads to the epididymis (the tube that carries sperm from the testis), causing pain, fever, and, rarely, sterility.
The CDC recommends all sexually active women up to age 25 and pregnant women are annually screened for Chlamydia. NIH goes on to say, all women with new sexual partners or multiple partners should also be screened.
The only way to absolutely prevent contracting Chlamydia is to practice abstinence. After that, use condoms and limit sexually contact to one uninfected partner.
WebMD advises everyone who has Chlamydia and receives treatment, to notify all recent sex partners so that they too can seek treatment.
Reviewed July 25, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle