What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It is caused by a bacteria called chlamydia trachomatis and occurs in both men and women. Each year 3 to 4 million people contract it. The infection is acquired mainly through sexual contact with the penis, vagina, mouth or anus of an infected partner. Ejaculation does not have to occur to become infected. 

What are the symptoms of chlamydia and when do they appear?

Most chlamydia infections cause no symptoms. When symptoms are present, they usually appear within 1-3 weeks of exposure. Men might have pain or burning during urination, discharge from the penis, and/or swelling or pain in the testicles. Women might have abnormal vaginal discharge, burning with urination, lower abdominal pain, painful intercourse, and/or bleeding between menstrual periods or after intercourse. Both men and women can have rectal pain, bleeding, or discharge especially if they have had anal sex and are infected and occasional, yet rare sore throat.

How is chlamydia diagnosed?

Testing includes a swab test of vaginal secretions from a female or urine from either a male or a female. A Pap test (a test for cervical cancer) does NOT screen for chlamydia.

Because the majority of people with chlamydia have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, it is important to be screened for chlamydia if you are sexually active or if you have a new sexual partner. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends all sexually active women under the age of 25 be screened yearly. Women age 25 and older with risk factors (a new sexual partner or more than one sexual partner) should also be screened annually. Men who have sex with men (MSM) and have receptive anal sex should also be screened yearly. MSM who have multiple and/or anonymous partners should be tested more frequently.

What are the problems if chlamydia is not treated?

If left untreated, chlamydia infections have the potential to cause serious and permanent damage to the reproductive organs. The complications for women include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID, an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries), chronic pelvic pain, ectopic (outside the uterus) pregnancy, and infertility. The bacteria can be passed to newborn infants of infected mothers causing pneumonia and/or eye infection. In men, chlamydia can damage the epididymis (adjacent to the testicles) and may lead to infertility and chronic testicular pain. Infected individuals are at increased risk of acquiring HIV if exposed to that virus.

How is chlamydia treated?

Chlamydia is easily cured with antibiotics. A single dose of Azithromycin or a week of Doxycycline is usually prescribed. Persons with chlamydia and their partner(s) should not have any sex for 7 days after treatment to avoid spreading the infection.

It is important that all sexual partners within the past 60 days be tested and treated as well.

Return to clinic for recheck if:

  • you had sex before you and/or your partner(s) finished treatment
  • you forgot to take medication or didn’t use properly as directed
  • your symptoms don’t go away
  • you missed your period or are pregnant

Repeat testing is recommended at 3 months after treatment to ensure that re-infection has not occurred.

How can chlamydia be prevented?

If you are sexually active, the safest strategy is to stay in a long term, mutually monogamous relationship.

Condoms and dental dams, used correctly and consistently, can greatly reduce the risk of chlamydia transmission.


Further Information about chlamydia and other STIs:

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