Coronavirus Update:What patients and families need to know
What is chlamydia?
It's a bacteria. The bacteria that causes chlamydia is called chlamydia trachomatis.
Both men and women can contract it. Chlamydia usually infects a woman's cervix or may infect the urethra – the tube urine passes through – in both men and women. It can also infect your vagina, fallopian tubes, anus, rectum, throat or eyes.
How common is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 1.5 million cases were reported in 2011 in the United States.
There are 3 to 4 million cases every year in the United States, but only about half of those cases are reported and treated. Why? Many people have chlamydia and don't know it because they've never had symptoms.
How do I know if I have chlamydia?
Around 90% of women and 70% of men have NO SYMPTOMS. The only way to know for sure if you have chlamydia is to GET TESTED. If you do get symptoms, they usually start one to three weeks after coming in contact with the chlamydia bacteria.
Symptoms can include:
For women only:
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding from your vagina after intercourse
- Pain in the lower part of your belly
- Pain during sex
- New or different discharge or liquid from your vagina
For men only:
- Clear or milky discharge or liquid from your penis
- Swelling or pain in your testicles
- Burning feeling when you pee
- Needing to pee more than you usually do
- Pain, itching, bleeding and/or discharge or liquid coming from your rectum, if you have chlamydia in your anus
Who is most likely to get chlamydia?
You are more likely to get chlamydia if:
- You are having sex with more than one person.
- The person/people you are having sex with are having sex with other people.
- You don't use condoms.
- You have had a sexually transmitted infection before.
- You are under 25 years old.
- There are more reported cases of chlamydia in women and people ages 15-19 or 20-24 years old, but people in these groups might just be getting tested more often.
How do you get chlamydia?
- Unprotected or under-protected sex. This means having sex without using condoms or using a condom, but the condom breaks, slips off, or you don't use it the entire time.
- You can get chlamydia by having ANY type of sex, including vaginal, anal and oral sex.
- The bacteria that cause chlamydia live in the tissue that lines the openings of your body. This includes your vagina, urethra (tube that urine passes through), rectum and throat. The chlamydia bacteria can pass between two people at any time these tissues come together.
- Chlamydia can be passed from a mother to a baby during birth.
- You cannot get it from:
- Kissing on the mouth
- Toilet seats
- Bed linens
- Door knobs
- Swimming pools, hot tubs or bathtubs
- Sharing silverware
- Sharing clothes
How can I keep from getting chlamydia?
- The only 100% effective way to not get chlamydia is to not have sex.
- If you have sex, use a condom every time you have any type of sex and get tested regularly.
- Ask your partner(s) to get tested before you start having sex. You can get chlamydia again, even if you have been treated for it in the past.
- Only have sex with a partner who has tested negative for chlamydia and is not having sex with anyone else.
- If you have tested positive for chlamydia and finished treatment, get tested again three months later to make sure the infection is gone and you don't have it again.
How can I keep from spreading chlamydia?
- If you think you might have chlamydia, don't have sex until you get tested and treated.
- Get tested regularly. Remember, you may not have symptoms. You can still spread chlamydia even if you don't have symptoms.
- Use a condom EVERY TIME you have vaginal, anal or oral sex.
- If you test positive for chlamydia:
- Don't have sex until you've finished ALL of your medicine and your doctor says it's ok.
- Tell all of your current and past partners that you have it, since they could have it too. Remember, untreated chlamydia can cause serious health problems, so anyone who might be infected should get tested and treated.
Can chlamydia be treated? How do I get rid of it?
- YES. You can treat and cure chlamydia with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.
- It is important to take all of the antibiotic medicine your doctor prescribes. The infection can still be in your body even after you start to feel better.
- To make sure chlamydia is cured and you don't pass it on to your partner, don't have sex for seven days, until your antibiotics have time to clear the infection from your body.
- If you do end up having sex before you finish your antibiotics, make sure you use a condom because the antibiotics might not work.
- Your partner(s) should also get tested and treated at the same time, so you don't re-infect each other.
- Get treated as early as possible to prevent serious health problems.
- The first step to getting rid of chlamydia is to see a doctor and get tested.
What can happen if I don't get treatment for chlamydia?
Chlamydia that is not treated can cause serious health problems, including:
- Pain in the lower part of your belly.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID):
- PID happens when the infection spreads to your fallopian tubes and/or ovaries.
- 30% of untreated chlamydia turns into PID.
- PID can make it more difficult to have a baby when you are ready:
- Does this mean I can't get pregnant?
- No, most people with PID can still get pregnant. BUT, if these infections aren't treated early enough, scar tissue can form in your fallopian tubes and inside your belly. This tissue can block your fallopian tubes, which can make it harder to get pregnant. If the tubes are partially blocked, fertilized eggs might not reach your uterus, and your pregnancy can form in the fallopian tubes. This is called a tubal or ectopic pregnancy.
- Scar tissue caused by PID can also be very painful, and that pain can last for months or even years. If it's bad enough, you may have to have surgery to treat the scar tissue.
- PID can come back many times, and it's more likely to come back if you get an STI again. The more times you have PID, the more likely you are to have health problems and more harm to your body.
- PID also be passed from mother to baby during birth and can cause the baby to be blind or have lung damage.
- Epididymitis: An infection in the tubes that connect your testicles to the urethra (where urine passes through) of the penis
- Pain in testicles
- In rare cases, can cause infertility
- Increases your chances of getting HIV and other STIs.
How do I get tested for chlamydia?
There are a few different ways to test for chlamydia:
- Peeing in a cup
- Collecting a swab from your vagina or cervix, if you are a woman
- Collecting a swab from your urethra, at the tip of your penis, if you are a man
You can get tested at places like family planning centers, private doctors' offices, STI clinics, hospital clinics or health departments.
Find a place to get tested from the CDC's list of testing locations.
How often should I get tested for chlamydia?
- If you are under 25 years old and have ever had sex, get tested at least ONCE A YEAR.
- You should get tested more often if you change sex partners or have had chlamydia or another STI in the past. Talk to a doctor to figure out how often you should get tested.
- It is important to continue to get tested regularly, even if you took all of your medicine and cured a past infection. You can get chlamydia more than once, and may not have symptoms even if you had symptoms before.