Chlamydia: detection, treatment and prevention
Published in Medicinewise Living
Date published: About this date
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in Australia. Both men and women often have no symptoms, so detection, treatment and prevention are vital to stop the spread of infection and complications.
What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis.
How do you get chlamydia?
Both men and women can become infected with chlamydia. If you have unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected male or female (whether they are a new or a current partner), or if infected body fluid contacts your eyes or genitals.
Men and women of any age can get chlamydia. Most reported cases (80%) are in people aged 15–29 years. Your chance of infection is greater if you don't consistently practise safe sex or you have multiple partners.
An infected mother can also transmit chlamydia to her baby during birth.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
Most men and women with chlamydia have no symptoms, even after weeks, months or years of having the infection.
Infection usually occurs in the cervix in women and urethra (urine tube) in men, but can also affect the rectum, throat and eyes.
Chlamydia symptoms in men
Some men can experience the following symptoms:
- an unusual discharge from the penis, or rectum
- burning or discomfort when urinating
- redness and irritation at the tip of the penis
- sore or swollen testicles.
Chlamydia symptoms in women
Some women can experience the following symptoms:
- an unusual discharge from the vagina, or rectum
- pelvic pain
- bleeding between periods
- pain or bleeding during sex.
Get tested — don't wait for symptoms
Around 80% of women and 50% of men with chlamydia don't experience any symptoms.
To find out if you have an infection, you need to get tested.
Annual testing is recommended for anyone under 25 years who is sexually active, especially if you:
- have unprotected sex
- have recently changed partners
- are pregnant.
Chlamydia testing is simple and involves:
- a swab of the penis or other infected area in men
- a swab of the cervix or other infected area in women
- a urine test in both men and women.
Your local doctor or sexual health clinic can test you.
Parents of babies born with an infection should also be tested and treated.
Retesting may be needed 3 months after treatment.
How can chlamydia infection be prevented?
Men and women can prevent chlamydia infection by always using condoms, dams (a thin sheet of plastic or latex) and other safe-sex measures (such as not sharing sex toys).
Regular check-ups for chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections are recommended for anyone who is sexually active, has had unprotected sex, has new or many sexual partners, or is concerned they may have an infection.
What are the treatments for chlamydia?
The treatments for chlamydia are the same for men and women. Treatment may vary depending on where the infection is and if there are any complications.
Antibiotics can easily treat chlamydia as long as they're taken exactly as prescribed.Avoid sex, or use a condom, for at least 7 days after completing treatment.See a doctor if your symptoms persist or return after treatment.
What are the complications of chlamydia infection?
Complications of chlamydia infection in women
If left untreated in women, chlamydia can spread into the uterus (womb), fallopian tubes and ovaries causing serious complications including pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or infertility.
Chlamydia that spreads to a baby during birth can cause a form of conjunctivitis (an eye infection). Around half of all newborns with conjunctivitis caused by chlamydia also develop pneumonia (a lung infection).
Complications of chlamydia infection in men
In men, chlamydia can spread into the testicles and epididymis (the tube that carries sperm from the testicles), which can cause infertility.
What do I do if I have chlamydia?
If you have chlamydia, current and past sexual partners from the previous six months need to be informed so they can be tested and treated if necessary. This can help prevent re-infection after treatment.
If you are prescribed antibiotics to treat chlamydia, take them exactly as prescribed. See a doctor if your symptoms persist or return after treatment.
Go back to your doctor 3 months after treatment, as a repeat test is commonly needed to check for re-infection.