What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia (cla-mid-ee-ah) is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis. It can spread from person to person during sexual intercourse (vaginal and anal) when a person’s mucous membranes come into contact with the vaginal secretions or semen of an infected person. It can be transmitted without complete insertion of a penis into the vagina or anus. It is less likely, although possible, to be transmitted to the throat during oral sex. It can also be passed from mother to newborn during childbirth. Chlamydia infections are treatable and curable with antibiotics.

How many people in San Francisco have it?

Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the United States. In 2003, there were almost 3,500 new cases of chlamydia infection in San Francisco. This rate has held steady since 2002, and is higher than the rates for Los Angeles and California as a whole. In San Francisco, young African-American women aged 15-19 and gay men are at highest risk for new chlamydial infections.

Why worry about chlamydia?

Untreated chlamydia can lead to severe reproductive health problems for women, including sterility. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a common result of untreated chlamydia infection. In PID, the bacteria move from the vagina up through the cervix and into the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Blockage and scarring can damage the tubes, causing women who conceive to be more likely to have “tubal pregnancies.”

In men, untreated chlamydial infections can lead to prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland), urethral scarring, infertility, or epididymitis (inflammation of the cord-like structure at the back of the testes).

If you are HIV positive and have chlamydia, inflamed genital tissues contain highly concentrated amounts of the virus, causing 8-10 times more HIV to be shed in your semen or vaginal secretions. If you are HIV negative and have chlamydia, your immune cells are especially susceptible to HIV if your partner is carrying the virus. Rectal chlamydia may increase chances of getting HIV ten to twenty-fold.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually appear from one to three weeks after infection, but then go away, even if left untreated. Many people infected with chlamydia never have any symptoms at all.

Women may experience pain and itching of the vulva or vagina; vaginal discharge; unusual vaginal or anal bleeding; pain with urination; and/or pain when having sex. 80% of infected women have no symptoms.

Men may experience discharge from the head of the penis or the anus; pain or itching at the head of the penis; and/or pain with urination. 50% of infected men have no symptoms.

What is a chlamydia test like?

A complete examination for chlamydia includes taking a sexual history, examining any symptoms you might be having and testing a sample of your genital secretions with a swab. In addition, there is a chlamydia test that can be done on a urine sample. The exact test(s) done will depend on where you go for your exam. Both City Clinic and your regular medical provider can give you a chlamydia test.

Some providers recommend that you get tested for gonorrhea at the same time as your chlamydia test. Talk to your provider about the options available to you when you go to get tested.

How is chlamydia treated?

Antibiotics cure chlamydia. It is very important to take all the pills you are given even if you feel better, so the bacteria is completely wiped out.

What can I do if I have chlamydia?

Your sex partner(s) must be examined and treated too, because otherwise they can give the infection back to you and/or infect others. You need to abstain from sex for one week from when the antibiotics were started. If you still have symptoms after you’ve completed the treatment, it’s important to go back to your provider for a check-up.

Once you are treated and cured of chlamydia, you can be re-infected if you’re exposed to the bacteria again.

How do I avoid getting chlamydia?

Abstinence is the only way to completely avoid getting chlamydia or other STDs. If you’re sexually active, using condoms consistently and correctly for oral, anal and vaginal sex is your best bet for staying sexually healthy. Since chlamydia can be passed even if the penis or tongue does not completely enter into the vagina or rectum, it’s important to use a condom from the very beginning to end of sexual contact.

The risk for chlamydia is directly related to the number of sex partners you have: The more sex partners, the greater the risk of contracting it. Having more sex with fewer partners reduces your risk of getting chlamydia.

If you have a new partner with whom you intend to be monogamous, consider having full STD checkups together before you start having sex. If you’re sexually active with more than one monogamous partner, regular STD checkups at least every six months is recommended. Chlamydia and other bacterial STDs are curable with proper diagnosis and treatment.