Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the world today. It is a bacterial infection transmitted through unprotected sex, and can lead to a wealth of problems later in life, including infertility. Because this infection can be so dangerous, regular chlamydia testing is advised so the infection can be identified and treated early on, before it causes additional problems.
Who is most at risk for chlamydia?
According to statistics, the most common age group to contract this STI is the 18 to 25 age group, and around 1 in 5 sexually active people between the ages of 14 and 19 have chlamydia. Many cases are not reported or treated, as the infection is often asymptomatic – ie no symptoms are experienced – so people do not seek treatment. Both men and women are at equal risk of contracting chlamydia, including men who have sex with men (MSM) and women who have sex with women (WSW).
How is it contracted?
Chlamydia is contracted when you have unprotected sex with an infected person. Sex can include vaginal, anal or oral sex, and unprotected means in the instance where bodily fluids are exchanged or come into contact with one another. Even if no ejaculation occurs, the STI can still be passed on. In addition, a mother can pass the infection on to her child during birth.
What are the main symptoms of chlamydia?
It’s important to note that chlamydia is usually asymptomatic and often doesn’t show any symptoms. If they do occur, symptoms might only present themselves up to several weeks after the infection was contracted. The most dangerous long-term symptom of chlamydia is infertility in both men and women, or damage to a women’s reproductive organs.
The most commonly experienced symptoms by both men and women include:
- abnormal discharge
- pain or burning during urination
- abdominal or pelvic pain (pelvic inflammatory disease - PID - in women)
- testicular pain or swelling (epididymitis in men)
- rectal pain, discharge and/or bleeding (proctitis – uncommon)
What complications are associated with a chlamydia infection?
The chlamydia bacterium normally first affects the cervix or urethra in women, which causes the pain and/or discharge. If the infection is not treated soon enough, it travels upwards and can infect the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
This complication is the main cause of infertility, but it can also lead to long-term pelvic pain or cause permanent damage to the reproductive tract. Other complications include an inability to become pregnant, or an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus).
Untreated chlamydia in pregnant women has been known to cause premature delivery or pneumonia or an eye infection in the newborn baby.
Complications are more rare in men than in women, but the most significant is infertility. This occurs in an untreated infection when it spreads to the tube that carries sperm from the testis, causing pain and fever.
Who should get tested for chlamydia?
Any person who is sexually active should regularly get tested for chlamydia. Yearly testing is most often recommended to ensure you are safe, even if you are in a long-term relationship. If you have multiple sexual partners, bi-yearly testing is advised.
If you are showing symptoms, it’s advised that you get tested as soon as possible so that you can start getting treated, and that you don’t have sex until the infection has been completely cleared up. Taking another chlamydia test to be sure can easily verify that you are clear, once you are finished your course of antibiotics.
How is chlamydia diagnosed?
An accredited STI testing laboratory can accurately diagnose chlamydia. All you need to do is provide a small urine sample, or a cotton swab of the vagina. Both types of tests can be done privately in your home and then sent via secure courier to a laboratory to perform the testing.
How can I prevent chlamydia?
Condoms are so far the most effective method of protecting yourself against STIs and chlamydia. However, if you have had unprotected sex or if you have multiple sexual partners, regular testing can help you be sure that you are safe – or help you seek immediate treatment if needed.
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