Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. The term Chlamydia actually refers to a group of different infections caused by different strains of the Chlamydia bacterium:
- Chlamydia trachomatis causes the sexually transmitted disease known as Chlamydia
- Chlamydia pneumonia causes a type of walking pneumonia
- Chlamydia psittaci causes a type of pneumonia caused by birds
Chlamydia trachomatis is currently one of the most common and widespread bacterial STDs in the United States. It is estimated that more than 4 million people are infected each year. Rates of Chlamydia in the United States are highest in the West and Midwest, with Missouri having above average numbers.
As many as 1 in 10 adolescent girls tested for Chlamydia is infected.
Teenage girls have the highest rates of chlamydia infection regardless of demographics or location:
- 15-19 year old girls: 46% of infections
- 20-24 year old women: 33% of infections
Chlamydia infection is widespread geographically and highly prevalent among economically disadvantaged young women between 16 and 24 years old.
In Australia in the Kimberley area, Australian Aboriginal children as young as 10 to 12 are being diagnosed with Chlamydia’ (SBS Dateline)
People infected with Chlamydia often have no symptoms, therefore, they are unaware that they are infected and may not seek professional health care.
- 50% of infected men
- 75% of infected women
Infections caused by Chlamydia are generally curable. they can be transmitted:
- during oral, vaginal, or anal sex with an infected partner
- from a mother to her newborn baby during delivery
When diagnosed, Chlamydia can be easily treated and cured. Untreated, Chlamydia can cause serious long and short term health problems in men and women as well as in newborn babies of infected mothers, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause:
- tubal pregnancy (which can sometimes be fatal)
Chlamydia may also result in problems for the newborn such as:
- neonatal conjunctivitis
Chlamydia is called Asymptomatic if there are no symptoms.
- in the beginning Chlamydia may not cause any symptoms so you may not even know you have it
- it can just come and go
Those who do notice that they have this infection will have certain symptoms for weeks or months, depending on the severity of the infection and whether treatment was undertaken early, or not at all. But, as it gets worse, you will begin to experience different symptoms.
In Pre-puberty Girls:
- vaginal discharge and odor (Vaginitis)
In Post-puberty Girls:
- off-white discharge and odor which comes from the infected cervix
Chlamydia In Women:
Chlamydia is often silent in women, with up to 90% of women asymptomatic. Women can carry the bacteria for months or even years without knowing it. This makes screening very important.
Symptoms can start to occur within 3 weeks after getting the infection and include the following:
- constant lower abdominal pain
- mild, milky or yellow mucus-like vaginal discharge
- nausea and fever
- pain during urination
- pain during sexual intercourse
- spotting between periods
Chlamydia can also lead to:
- Cervicitis which is inflammation of the cervix. (5-13% of the women in the U.S. who get Chlamydia get cervicitis)
- Salpingitis which is inflammation of the fallopian tubes
If a pregnant woman has Chlamydia trachomatis the risk of an Ectopic pregnancy is much higher. This is where the fetus does not grow in the womb but in the ectopic tubes.
Chlamydia can silently linger for months without symptoms and the infection may move inside the body if it is not treated, where it may cause:
- Epidydimitis in men
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- chronic pain
- even death
Chlamydia In men:
Chlamydia causes a condition called NON-SPECIFIC URETHRITIS (NSU) which can produce symptoms such as:
- burning on urination (non-gonoccocal urethritis (NGU))
- groin pain and swelling (Epididymitis)
- irritation around opening of the penis
- mild, sticky, milky or mucus-like discharge from penis
- pain when urinating
- swollen testes (which if not treated can lead to infertility)
- testicular pain
Symptoms may seem to “come and go”
Chlamydia In babies:
- 1/4 of babies passing down the infected birth canal will get Chlamydia Pneumonia
- 1/2 of all babies born to infected women after delivery through the birth canal will develop Chlamydial Conjunctivitis (pink eye) a week after birth
- in severe cases blindness may occur
- the bacteria can be easily passed to the developing child within the uterus
- the child may have respiratory diseases for a long time if not treated
Other conditions Caused by Chlamydia
- the infection can occur in the pharynx (throat) from oral-genital contact
- the infection can be spread to the eyes causing inflammation of the lining of the eye (pink eye)
- in tropical climates, a particular strain of C. trachomatis causes an STD called Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) which can get into the skin through tiny cuts.
After months or years it can spread to other lymph nodes causing:
- genital problems
- proctitis (inflamed rectum)
- skin breakdown (ulceration)
Transmission Of Chlamydia
The bacteria causing the infection is transmitted by direct person-to-person contact through:
- passing it to a baby during birth
- semen from the penis
- touching eyes when infected
- vaginal fluid
- babies (from infected mothers)
- sexually active people, regardless of their sexual preference
- sexually active teenagers (about 45%)
If you have certain symptoms or feel differently to how you normally feel and have been with an infected person, go to a doctor for confirmation.
Chlamydia infection can be confused with Gonorrhea because the symptoms of both diseases are similar and in some situations, they occur together.
A sample of the patient’s genital secretions is tested in a laboratory using one of a wide variety of quick and inexpensive laboratory tests.
Growing the organism in specialised tissue culture is one of the most definitive tests.
These tests are:
- difficult to do
- Test results not available for 3-7 days
A process called DNA amplification is used to detect the genes of the organisms in genital secretions (urine). This method does not require an invasive sample, pelvic examination or swabbing of the penis.
These tests are:
- less expensive
- more rapid
- performed during a routine checkup
- slightly less accurate
- Results available within 24 hours
Amplicor Chlamydia Trachomatis Test
Recently, a new chlamydia test became available called the Amplicor Chlamydia Trachomatis Test, which is carried out using:
- a sample of a man’s urine
- a swab from a woman’s cervix or urethra
- Results are available within 4 hours and not 3-7 days.
Chlamydia can be in your body for a very long time unless treated with antibiotics. Usually, this consists of a 7-10 day treatment program.
A number of antibiotics are used to treat Chlamydial infections including:
- Azithromycin (one-day course)
- Doxycycline (seven-day course) *
- Erythromycin *
- Tetracycline (some people are allergic to the drug)
* able to be used during pregnancy
- Penicillin is not effective against Chlamydia infections.
- The prescribed medication should be taken, even after symptoms disappear, until advised by your health practitioner.
- All sexual partners of a person with Chlamydia infection need to be evaluated and treated to prevent re-infection.
Screening and treatment of Chlamydia:
- decreases the incidence of complications, such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- reduces the prevalence of lower genital tract infection
- While home remedies for chlamydia may be of some assistance in treatment, it is not advisable to rely solely on natural methods of treatment to get rid of chlamydia, because of the serious long-term implications. natural remedies can be used to enhance the effect of pharmaceutical treatment or to provide relief from symptoms.
- Goldenseal stimulates the immune system
- Echinacea contains antimicrobial properties and strengthens the immune system
- Garlic also has antibacterial properties and may assist the immune system
- While diet by itself cannot cure Chlamydia, it can strengthen or weaken your immune system and assist or impair your body’s ability to fight infections.
- Include foods such as:
- Alkaline enhancing foods, such as beans, whole grains, seeds and nuts
- Fresh fruits and vegetables that provide the body with vitamins and minerals
- Probiotic foods such as natural yoghurt
- During an active outbreak, avoid or reduce consumption of:
- red meat
- dairy products
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
If Chlamydia is untreated up to 40% of women with the infection will develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), a serious infection of the reproductive organs.
Each year up to 1 million women in the United States develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and of those:
- 18% will experience debilitating, chronic pelvic pain and discomfort
- 20% will become infertile
- an estimated 100,000 women will become infertile
As many as half of all cases of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) may be due to Chlamydia infection, often without symptoms, producing scarring of the fallopian tubes which can:
- block the tubes and prevent fertilization occurring
- interfere with the passage of the fertilized egg down into the uterus causing the egg to implant in the fallopian tube (ectopic or tubal pregnancy)
- threaten the life of the mother and fetus
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is the most common cause of pregnancy-related death among poor teenagers in the inner cites and rural areas of the United States.
Long Term Effects Of Chlamydia
When treated early, there are no long term consequences of Chlamydia. Serious complications can result however when left untreated.
Long term complications may include:
- Epididymitis – an inflammation of the testicles that can cause sterility
- Prostatitis – an infection of the prostate gland
- Reiter’s Syndrome – an autoimmune, arthritis-like condition
Long term complication in women may include:
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- an infection that spreads from the vagina and cervix to the lining of the uterus and fallopian tubes and can lead to sterility
- an infection around the liver
- an autoimmune, arthritis-like condition
Long term complication in infants may include:
- ear infections
- eye infections
Effects of Chlamydia in Pregnancy & Newborns
Of women with Pelvic inflammatory Disease caused by the Chlamydia infection, 9% will have a life-threatening tubal (ectopic pregnancy). The tubal pregnancy is the leading cause of first-trimester, pregnancy-related deaths in American women.
Chlamydia infection during pregnancy can result in neonatal conjunctivitis (eye infection) usually within the first ten days.
- eye discharge
- swollen eyelids
Chlamydia infection during pregnancy can also result in Pneumonia, usually with 3-6 weeks
- a progressively worsening cough
Both conditions can be treated successfully with antibiotics
Routine testing of pregnant women for Chlamydia infection is recommended because of the risks to newborn babies.
Due to lack of symptoms people who are infected with Chlamydia may unknowingly infect their sex partners.
If you are sexually active, you can lower your risk by following these guidelines:
Abstinence is the only way to be 100% sure of protection from Chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Drugs reduce your ability to make sensible decisions, such a:
- becoming sexually intimate when drinking alcohol and/or taking drugs
Condoms or diaphragms should be used during sexual intercourse:
Form a monogamous relationship
- be tested before you have sex
- both partners are faithful
Limit your number of sexual partners
- risk increases as the number of partners increases
Persons who have more than one sex partner, especially women under 25, should be tested regularly
Regular check-ups for STD’s
- do not wait for symptoms to appear
- testing should be part of your regular examination
- annual screening of all sexually active females under 20 years of age
- pregnant women should be tested
- women with infection of the cervix should be tested
Screening of women over 20 with one or more risk factors for Chlamydia:
- diaphragm contraception
- lack of condom use
- multiple sex partners
- new sex partner
Where screening programs have been fully implemented significant progress has been made, however:
- adolescents continue to have the highest rates of disease
- the reported rate of Chlamydia for women substantially exceeds the rate for men, due mainly to increased detection of asymptomatic infection in women through screening
- low rates of reported Chlamydia among men suggest that many of the partners of women with Chlamydia are not screened or treated
- a successful program to include comprehensive screening and treatment for women and also for men
- recent advances have made available extremely accurate urine tests which make testing of males more feasible and less uncomfortable than older tests
Scientists are looking for better ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent Chlamydia infection. Current research is being carried out on why C. trachomatis causes disease in the body and why some people suffer more severe complications than others.
This may give insight about how to recognize women at risk for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and PID-related infertility or other complications of Chlamydia infection.
Two strategies are being researched to prevent infection:
- a vaccine
- topical micro-biocides
The genome for C. trachomatis has been recently sequenced. This will give scientists important information to develop a safe and effective vaccine.
Developing topical micro-biocides, which are preparations that can be inserted into the vagina to prevent infection), that are effective and easy for women to use is also a major research focus.
For more information, watch this video: