Chlamydia- a common infection that can be silent but serious
What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection or STI that can infect men and women- it is the most commonly reported communicable disease in Australia. While it often goes undetected, it can cause a lot of damage to a woman’s reproductive system, putting her future ability to become pregnant at risk. Ectopic pregnancy (which can be life-threatening) and severe pelvic infections are other serious complications.
How do you catch chlamydia?
You catch it by having vaginal, oral or anal sex with someone who has Chlamydia. It is possible to catch it from a male partner even if he does not ejaculate. Pregnant women who have Chlamydia may pass it to their baby during childbirth.
Can you get chlamydia more than once?
Yes it’s possible to catch it more than once- if you’ve been treated for Chlamydia in the past but then have sex with someone who currently has Chlamydia, unfortunately you can catch it again.
How can I reduce my risk?
Correct use of condoms every time you have sex will significantly reduce the risk of catching Chlamydia and any other STI.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can get Chlamydia through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex. However, sexually active young people are at a higher risk. Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are also at risk since Chlamydia can be spread through oral and anal sex. Basically, anyone who is sexually active is at risk, and should consider getting regular STI checks.
How do I know I have Chlamydia?
Most people who have Chlamydia have no symptoms. Sometimes symptoms may not appear until several weeks after you have sex with an infected person. It can cause a lot of harm to your body even if it is silent.
Women may notice abnormal vaginal discharge, a burning sensation when passing urine or bleeding between their periods. Men may experience discharge from the penis, burning when passing urine and occasionally pain and swelling in one or both testicles.
How is an STI check done for Chlamydia?
Your doctor may perform an STI check via a urine sample or swab.
Is there a cure for Chlamydia?
- Yes, Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics, as long as they are taken correctly.
- It is usually advised to avoid sexual contact for 7 days after treatment.
- Re-testing at 3 months is often recommended (antibiotic treatment is extremely effective but some people get re-infected).
- In certain cases (e.g Chlamydia in pregnancy or rectal infection) a repeat test to ensure clearance of infection is often done 4 weeks after treatment.
What happens if I don’t treat it?
Untreated Chlamydia can lead to serious health problems- even though it may start out as a silent condition, with no symptoms.
- In women, untreated Chlamydia can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes (these are the tubes that carry fertilized eggs from the ovaries to the uterus)- this can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID may have no symptoms, but some women may experience abdominal or pelvic pain. Pelvic infection can cause women to become acutely unwell, and in the longer term to infertility. It can also increase the chances of developing an ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus which can lead to internal bleeding and death).
- Men rarely have health problems linked to Chlamydia. Infection sometimes spreads to the tube that carries sperm from the testicles, causing pain and fever.
- Untreated chlamydia can make it easier to catch HIV from an infected partner.
If you have further concerns about your sexual health, speak to your GP.
If you have been diagnosed with an STI, it’s advised to let your recent sexual partners know- if you feel unable to do this directly, there are some online resources such as letthemknow.org.au that can assist you to do so anonymously.