Chlamydia - an infection that needs no introduction. Everyone has heard of it and knows how it is (commonly) spread. There’s a reason for that...
In 2019, there were 468,342 positive diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in England. By far, the most common diagnosis was for chlamydia at 49%. In comparison, the next highest-scoring STI, gonorrhea, was only 15%.
Read on to learn about the condition's potential complications and why you should get tested for STIs regularly.
First off, don’t leave any infection untreated. Even if there are no symptoms or symptoms are painless. If you are in any doubt as to whether you have an infection, get tested. There are many free services available. Depending on your location, you may be able to order a home test kit from your local NHS health care provider.
Chlamydia, along with all STIs, can have a wide-reaching impact on your overall health. The most common complications of untreated chlamydia are:
Each of these health problems should be taken seriously, as they all have the potential to cause chronic and irreversible damage. They all have their own symptoms and signs, but by far, the best way to guard against them is to deal with the underlying cause - chlamydia.
This is a relatively common complication of chlamydia. It is inflammation of the womb, ovaries and fallopian tubes. Due to the fact PID affects the sexual organs, the most serious consequence is infertility. Other than that, possible issues include:
You should report any distressing or unusual genital symptoms to a healthcare professional immediately, regardless of your age or sexual activity.
When you’re pregnant, it is not just your health on the line. The infection can spread to your child during birth and can make labour more dangerous for both the mother and child, as well as affect your baby’s health during pregnancy.
The biggest risks of chlamydial complications during pregnancy include:
However, the risks are not just limited to pregnancy. It is known for chlamydia to pass to the child during labour*, causing a number of “vertically transmitted infections”.
These viral and bacterial infections have the potential to be very serious for the baby. Examples include:
If you are trying to conceive and have not had an STI test, you should look at completing a home test kit or visit a GUM clinic. It is also recommended to visit your GP for a complete health check before trying for a child.
When you first visit your doctor after becoming pregnant, they will most likely offer you an STI test.
*It is unlikely the infection will pass to the child with a caesarean section.
STIs are passed between all individuals, regardless of gender. However, if you are a sexually active woman (especially, between the ages of 15 and 24) , you are at an increased risk of developing serious complications from chlamydia.
A man’s genitals are (mostly) external, whereas a woman’s genitals are (mostly) internal. The result of this is that common visible symptoms of chlamydia, such as discharge, redness and inflammation of the urethra (urethritis), are less apparent for women. If symptoms do occur, they are also more easily confused with other normal bodily functions. When a disease presents with no obvious symptoms, it is referred to as asymptomatic.
As mentioned, untreated chlamydia can have a detrimental impact on sexual health and fertility. Infertility is also a risk for men. However, it is more common for women with chlamydia.
Anyone who has unprotected sex with a new partner or has multiple sexual partners is high risk and should make sure they are tested for STIs.
There are different forms of the chlamydia bacteria - these all belong to the genus* Chlamydia. Not all of them affect the sexual organs and are sexually transmitted. One example is Chlamydia pneumoniae.
C.pneumoniae affects the respiratory system, which includes your lungs and airways. If untreated, this infection can cause pneumonia. Pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs and can prove very serious, especially in older patients or those with additional health concerns.
As with most respiratory infections, C.pneumoniae is spread through respiratory droplets. These can be airborne if an infected individual sneezes or coughs or can be transferred by touching a surface with droplets on it.
Along with the more well-known STI, Chlamydia trachomatis, C.pneumoniae is treated with antibiotics.
*A genus is a group of organisms that share common characteristics. One step above species.
Yes, you can. Though it is a less common means of transmission, it is still possible to contract the infection through oral sex. Other than chlamydia, you can also contract gonorrhoea, genital herpes or syphilis from oral sex.
If your infection is more prevalent in your throat and mouth, you can pass it to your partner's genitals. Instead, if you have a more conventional presentation of symptoms in your genitals, you can pass it to your partner’s mouth.
The only way to effectively prevent STIs is to use condoms or dental dams during all forms of sexual activity, including oral sex.
It is a rare presentation of the infection, however, you can get chlamydia in your mouth. This usually happens if you have performed oral sex on an infected person, although it has also been known to occur from vaginal and anal sex.
It is important to remember that all forms of chlamydia can present with no symptoms. That is why it is crucial to get tested regularly.
Other infections and conditions, such as oral thrush, can appear in a very similar way. You should always visit a doctor for an in-person diagnosis - they will also recommend and prescribe antibiotic treatment.
Many myths surround the transmission of chlamydia. One is that you can contract the infection from clothing; another is that it can survive on toilet seats; or that you can get the disease from consuming food an infected person has handled.
None of these are true. The only way you can contract a chlamydia infection is through person-to-person sexual contact - all forms of sexual contact count, whether anal, oral or vaginal sex.
That being said, it is possible to contract other STIs through other methods, such as intravenous drug use, saliva or contact with recently used towels. However, this entirely depends on the infection, and sexual contact is always the common method of transmission.
The treatment for chlamydia is antibiotics - usually doxycycline or azithromycin. Doxycycline is the first-line treatment, which means it is the go-to medication when first diagnosed with the STI. If it proves unsuccessful, a doctor will then prescribe azithromycin.
You should complete the full course of treatment before having sexual intercourse again (including all sexual activity). Sometimes antibiotics are prescribed in single doses. In this case, you should still wait 7 days for the medicine to take effect. After those 7 days, it is a good idea to have another STI test to confirm you are completely clear of the infection.
If your symptoms improve, continue taking medication. An incomplete course of antibiotics can result in the infection returning and contribute to antibiotic resistance.
You should also wait for your infected partner to complete their course of medication. If you have had a positive test result, they should get themselves tested and seek treatment.
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