Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease/sexually transmitted infection (STD/STI) in the United States. It is spread through contact with the penis, mouth, vagina, or anus of a person infected with chlamydia. That means it is passed from person to person through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Chlamydia is known as the “silent” disease because, in most cases, the infection produces no symptoms until it is quite advanced. Even when chlamydia causes no symptoms, it can damage your reproductive system.
For women who do experience symptoms, symptoms of an untreated chlamydia infection may include
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- lower abdominal pain
- burning during urination (peeing)
- pain during intercourse (sex)
- bleeding between menstrual periods
Males who experience symptoms may experience
- burning sensation when urinating
- a discharge from the penis
- burning or itching around the opening of the penis
Symptoms of an anal infection, for men and women, include anal pain, bleeding, and discharge or leakage.
Because symptoms are often absent in the early stages (a condition known as asymptomatic), chlamydia is easily spread through unprotected oral, vaginal, and anal sex with an infected partner. Chlamydia can also be passed from an infected mother to her child during the birthing process.
Chlamydia in Pregnancy
Chlamydia is strongly associated with ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, infertility, increased risk for miscarriage, preterm delivery, and premature rupture of the amniotic sac, which increases the fetus’s risk for infection and preterm delivery. During delivery, babies are exposed to these bacteria and risk developing blindness, life-threatening blood infections, and pneumonia. Chlamydia is the leading cause of early infant pneumonia and conjunctivitis (pink eye) in the newborn.
- Abstinence (which means not having ANY vaginal, anal or oral sex)
- Using condoms or dental dams the right way every time you have sex
- Having one un-infected partner who only has sex with you
- Avoiding alcohol or drug use because they may lead to risky sexual behavior
- Talking to your partner(s) about their sexual history
Not having vaginal, anal, or oral sex is the most effective way to avoid getting chlamydia and other STDs (including HIV).
Use male latex condoms and dental dams if you decide to have sex.
Condoms are not 100% effective. But they can help protect against gonorrhea and other STDs (including HIV).
- Be sure to use a new latex condom properly for each act of vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
- Follow instructions on the label exactly. Check the expiration date.
- Never use latex condoms with oil-based products, such as petroleum jelly and vaginal products that have oil.
If you have a latex allergy you have alternatives, there are polyurethane and polyisoprene male condoms available as well as polyurethane female condoms.
Limit your partners.
To be safer, only have sex with one un-infected partner who does not have sex with anyone else.
Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs out there, especially among teenagers and young adults. Avoid alcohol or drug use because these activities may lead to risky sexual behavior. It is important to talk to your partner about their sexual history.
Washing your genitals, urinating, or douching after sex will not protect you from getting chlamydia.
Get tested if you think you or your partner may have chlamydia. Ask your partner to get tested, too. Avoid having sex until you are sure neither of you has chlamydia. This will help prevent repeat infections.
Regular screenings are advised for many people. Experts recommend yearly screening for chlamydia if you are:
- A sexually active woman age 24 or younger
- A sexually active woman over age 24 with a risk factor – for example, having a new sexual partner or multiple sexual partners
- A man who has sex with other men
Screening is also recommended for pregnant women. Ask your healthcare provider what is right for you. He or she may also advise getting tested for other STDs, including HIV.
Testing is simple and painless. Many clinics offer STD testing. Go to gettested.cdc.gov to find a test site near you. A urine sample or swab sample will be tested for signs of infection. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have any questions about your test results.
Because chlamydia is a bacterial infection it can be cured with antibiotics specific to the infection, which must be prescribed by a health care provider.
What if I don’t get treated?
- Untreated chlamydia in women could cause permanent damage to the reproductive system.
- Untreated chlamydia may also increase your chances of getting HIV.
If you had chlamydia and were successfully treated it does not protect you from getting it again, so your sex partner(s) need to be treated too.