Chlamydia
Sexually Transmitted Disease

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Chlamydia

Contents

What Is Chlamydia?
How Do I Catch It?
What Are The Symptoms?
How Is It Diagnosed?
How Is It Treated?
What Complications Can It Cause?
Who Is Most Likely To Get Chlamydia?
Can It Be Prevented?



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Sexually Transmitted Diseases
What Is Chlamydia?

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States. It is an infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. About 1.4 million cases are reported to the CDC every year but it is estimated that the rate of infection is nearer 3 million. Under-reporting is very common because most women with chlamydia are not aware they are infected and do not seek treatment. Although it is easily curable with antibiotics this disease when untreated can silently damage a woman's reproductive organs. It is responsible for between 25 and 50 percent of cases of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which in turn can lead to infertility, chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy. Chlamydia is also responsible for 50 percent of all cervicitis cases (cervix inflammation).

How Do I Catch It?

Chlamydia spreads from one person to another through sexual contact - vaginal and anal sex; less commonly through oral sex - whether or not that person has noticeable symptoms. It can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during a vaginal birth. The bacterium chlamydia trachomatis exists in a different number of strains. Strains A, B and C cause chronic conjunctivitis (trachoma) which is the leading cause of blindness in the world. Strains D to K are sexually transmitted and cause the symptoms associated with chlamydia.

What Are The Symptoms?

Symptoms in Women

Most women experience no symptoms and don't notice anything until their partner develops symptoms - but even this is not fail-safe because 1 in 4 men with the disease develop no symptoms. If a woman does show signs they are often confused with gonorrhea or urinary tract infections caused by a different type of bacteria. The most obvious signs in a woman, which may occur within 1 to 3 weeks of exposure to infection, are:
• Burning sensation during urination.
• Pus in the urine.
• Increased vaginal discharge.
• Lower abdominal pain.
• Painful sexual intercourse and bleeding after intercourse.

Sometimes:
• Fever.
• Nausea.
• Pain that resembles a gallstones attack.
• If infection spreads from the genitals to the eyes it can cause eye inflammation.

Signs Of PID

Many women don't know they have chlamydia until they develop symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease, such as:
• Heavy periods.
• Fever.
• Abdominal pain and tenderness.
• Painful sexual intercourse.
However there is evidence that chlamydia can cause a symptomless type of PID which can lead to infertility when treatment is not sought.

Symptoms In Men

Symptoms, if they appear, usually do so within 1 to 3 weeks and include:
• Burning sensation during urination.
• Burning or itching around the opening of the penis.
• Discharge from the penis.
• Discharge from the rectum if it spreads to the rectal area.
• Testicular tenderness or pain.
• Chlamydia can also grow in the throats of women and men who have oral sex with an infected partner.

How Is It Diagnosed?

A STD clinic will be able to diagnose the disease for you. There are even home chlamydia tests which you can buy online or in pharmacies without prescription and cost about $30 (although the accuracy of these tests varies). Chlamydia testing is simple and painless. Either the clinician will perform a urine test or a swab (cotton bud) is used to take a sample of cells from the vagina or urethra (in a man). If you have had oral or anal sex a swab will also be taken from your throat or rectum. Your eyes may also be tested for signs of conjunctivitis.

How Is It Treated?

Chlamydia is easily cured with antibiotics such as tetracycline, doxycycline or erythromycin which are taken for 7 to 10 days. If you are pregnant and have chlamydia the treatment of choice is erythromycin. The entire prescription should be taken and then the swab or urine test should be repeated 4 weeks later to ensure the infection is gone. As chlamydia often co-exists with other STDs like gonorrhea or syphilis, you will need to undergo STD testing for other diseases. Your partner will also need to be screened and treated if necessary. There is no life-long immunity to chlamydia (or any STD), if you caught it once, you can catch it again.

What Complications Can It Cause?

• In women, chlamydia can lead to inflammation of the cervix.
• Untreated chlamydia can spread to the womb or fallopian tubes causing salpingitis or PID. These conditions significantly raise the risk of infertility and ectopic pregnancy.
• Pregnant women with chlamydia can pass the infection onto the child during a vaginal delivery. The baby will be prone to an eye infection and pneumonia.
• It increases the chance of becoming infected with the HIV virus if exposed.
• Complications in men are rare. If it spreads to the epididymis (the tube that carries sperm from the testis) it can cause pain, fever and rarely, sterility.

Who Is Most Likely To Get Chlamydia?

You are more likely to develop it if you:
• Are aged under 25.
• Have a history of infection.
• Your sexual partner recently had a urethral discharge.
• You did not use a condom or female condom when you had sex.

Can It Be Prevented?

All women who are sexually active and not in a mutually monogamous relationship should:
1. Undergo annual STD testing at a clinic or doctor's office. Read also about other recommended health screenings for women.
2. Follow STD prevention advice in regards to safer sex practice.
3. Stop sexual activity if they suspect they are infected until they have been checked out.
4. Be aware of the most common symptoms of STDs: including genital herpes and gonorrhea.

To protect newborn babies from chlamydia infection many hospitals now put erythromycin drops (instead of silver nitrate drops used to prevent the spread of gonorrhea) into the eyes of all newborns. While this prevents conjunctivitis, bacteria can still enter the baby's nose or throat making them prone to pneumonia if the mother is infected.

  Related Articles on STDs

For more health info, see the following:

Reproductive system disorders: List of possible complications.
Pubic lice and scabies: Other common STDs.

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WOMENS HEALTH ADVICE: ABOUT SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES
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