What is chlamydia?

It is a sexually transmitted infection caused by Chlamydia trachomatis.  Because many people who are infected have no symptoms, it is known as "the silent STD".  This is also why it is the most common sexually transmitted infection in this country.  You may be at risk for this infection even if your partner has no symptoms.

What are the symptoms in a woman?

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this disease is its ability to infect and cause damage in women with minimal or no symptoms.  While 60-80% of women show few or no signs of infections, the following may be present:

  • burning with urination
  • vaginal discharge
  • itching
  • pelvic or abdominal pain
  • bleeding between periods or with intercourse

What are the symptoms in a man?

Eighty percent of men with chlamydia WILL have symptoms. These are often similar to those of gonorrhea and may include:

  • painful urination
  • discharge from the penis
  • burning sensation at the tip of the penis

Why is it serious?

Infection in women usually begins in the cervix.  If untreated, it can spread into the uterus and fallopian tubes, leading to scarring of the tubes with subsequent problems with infertility and increased risk of ectopic or tubal pregnancy.  Severe infection in the fallopian tubes can result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which might require hospitalization and which also causes scarring of the tubes.  During pregnancy, chlamydia can cause spontaneous abortion or stillbirth.  Infants infected at delivery may develop eye infections, pneumonia, or both.

Infection in men can lead to scarring of the urethra or infection in the prostate gland.

How is it diagnosed?

A sample of discharge is taken from a woman's cervix or from the urethra of a man.  The tests are accurate, quick, and painless.

Chlamydia Screening: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends screening at least annually for chlamydia in all sexually active women age 25 years and younger. Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial STD in the United States and is known as a "silent" disease because the majority of infected people have no symptoms. Chlamydia can be easily treated and cured with antibiotics. Untreated chlamydia can lead to severe pelvic infections, chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus). 

How is it treated?

There are several effective antibiotics.  It is very important to take all medications as prescribed and to return for a follow-up exam to be sure the infection has cleared.  Sexual partners must be treated or reinfection will occur.  It is essential to refrain from intercourse for a week after all partners have been treated.

Does past infection with chlamydia provide immunity?

No. You can catch chlamydia again.

How can I avoid getting chlamydia?

  • Limit your partners.  Have sex only with someone who is having sex only with you.
  • Use condoms every time.
  • Insist that you and your partner be tested.
  • Get early medical care for any symptoms.
  • Abstinence is the only sure way to avoid STDs.
  • The kinds of sex that do not include vaginal, anal or oral intercourse are also "safer sex" and less likely to spread STDs.
  • Look at your partner before having sex. If you see any sign of an infection such as rashes, sores, discharge or swelling, stop and talk about the importance of checking for an STD before having sex.
  • If you think you are infected, avoid any sexual contact and visit a local sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic, hospital or your own doctor. If possible, bring your sex partner(s) with you so that they can be treated if necessary.

Source: University of South Carolina, Student Health Services