If you’re pregnant, then you know how important it is to make the world safe for your baby, and you probably spend a lot of time thinking about it. Even if you’re not pregnant now, you doubtless want to ensure the best possible outcome for any future pregnancy that you planned to keep.
Unfortunately, chlamydia challenges that wish. If left untreated, chlamydia can damage growing fetuses and endanger the baby during delivery. Because this sexually transmitted disease (STD) is frequently hard to detect and manifests no symptoms, many people don’t even know they have it – but can carry it the length of their pregnancy, risking their baby’s health, not to mention their own.
The good news is, there’s an easy antidote. Knowledge is power, as they say, and learning more about chlamydia and its potential risks is the best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy you.
What Is Chlamydia and How Common Is It?
Medical News Today defines chlamydia as “a sexually transmitted bacterial infection. It affects both men and women and is spread during sexual contact.” (1) The bacteria responsible for chlamydia is known as Chlamydia trachomatis, a parasite affecting only humans. There are other strains affecting mammals such as pigs, mice and hamsters, but these are not transmissible across species.
Medical News Today also reports that “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015, there were over 1.5 million cases of chlamydia in the United States. A rate of 478.8 cases per 100,000 population, which has been increasing since 2001.” Moreover, “Since 1994, chlamydia has been the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) reported to the CDC.”
Transmission of Chlamydia
Chlamydia spreads through sexual fluids. “You can get chlamydia by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has chlamydia,” say the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It is important to note that “If your sex partner is male you can still get chlamydia even if he does not ejaculate.” It is equally critical to understand that chlamydia is not a disease to which you build up immunity, so even if you have been infected and treated, you can still get reinfected. (2)
Although it most commonly affects the anus, vagina and penis, it can also pass to the mouth and even the eyes. In fact, says the World Health Organization (WHO), it “is responsible for the blindness or visual impairment of about 1.9 million people. Blindness from trachoma is irreversible,” and occurs “With repeated episodes of infection over many years.” When that happens, “the eyelashes may be drawn in so that they rub on the surface of the eye, with pain and discomfort and permanent damage to the cornea.” (3)
While the WHO reports that the infection can pass from infected bed linens, many sources say otherwise. This may be due to the difference in sanitation levels between developing and developed countries. However, it is important to safeguard yourself against the disease (discussed below), as it can cause significant damage to children.
This can happen as early as infancy.
Chlamydia and Pregnancy
If a baby is born to a mother with chlamydia, it can then get transmitted to the baby at the time of birth. The infection can spread from the mother’s birth canal to the baby’s eyes and mouth, where it can cause conjunctivitis, an inflammatory infection of the eyes that results in swelling, discharge and redness. If it spreads through the mouth, it can develop into pneumonia, resulting in coughing and rapid breathing. (4)
Chlamydia also makes it measurably more likely that a woman’s body will spontaneously go into labor or abort the pregnancy, with “infection at 24 weeks' gestation … associated with a two‐ to threefold increased risk of subsequent spontaneous preterm birth.” Other studies have “detected a fourfold increase in the risk of preterm delivery among chlamydia‐infected women compared with non‐infected women.” (5) These premature labors and deliveries are associated with the early rupture of membranes, which can signal delivery to begin.
Know that even if you are not pregnant, chlamydia puts your fertility at risk. If left untreated, it can spread to fallopian tubes, increasing the chances of ectopic pregnancy, which is where the embryo develops in the fallopian tubes rather than in the uterus. This is potentially life-threatening. Even when your life is not at risk, chlamydia can cause infertility or sterility and prevent you from having children in future.
Can Chlamydia Be Cured During Pregnancy?
Good news: Chlamydia is easy to cure with a short course of antibiotics, either in one dose or in a weeklong regimen. The infection responds readily to such antibiotics and, barring reinfection from an infected sexual partner, you will be safe for the remainder of your pregnancy – keeping the baby safe as well.
Symptoms of Chlamydia
While most women are tested for chlamydia during their first appointment, the possibility of reinfection means you should always be on the lookout for symptoms.
As discussed, chlamydia is often hard to detect, which is one of the reasons it is so common and so often left untreated during pregnancy. Believe it or not, “Around 90% percent of women and 70% of men with chlamydia have no symptoms,” says The Center for Young Women’s Health. Even when it does manifest, it can take several weeks to manifest, which is long enough to pass the disease on to someone else – and in some cases, even long enough to give birth before discovering it. (6)
The symptoms of chlamydia include (7):
- Pain during urination and sex
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Abnormal vaginal or anal discharge
- Bleeding in between periods
- Bleeding from the anus
If you notice any of these symptoms when you are pregnant (or at all), speak with your physician right away.
Protecting Yourself Against Chlamydia
To protect yourself against chlamydia, especially during pregnancy, the best thing you can do is abstain from sex with unknown partners. Knowing their sexual history is the best way to decrease the risk of contracting the disease, as is minimizing the number of partners, known and unknown.
Regular testing is also important, especially if you have had unprotected sex since your last test. Are you sexually active? Regular screening is an essential part of a healthy sex life and can protect you and your partners from chlamydia. For affordable and accurate STD screening in the privacy of your own home, request your STD test kit today.
(1) Everything You Need to Know About Chlamydia. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/8181.php
(2) CDC – Chlamydia Fact Sheet. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm
(3) Trachoma. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/trachoma
(4) Chlamydia. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/sexually-transmitted/Pages/Chlamydia.aspx
(5) Pregnancy Outcomes in Women Infected with Chlamydia Thrachomatis: A Population-Based Cohort Study in Washington State. (2007). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2598687/
(6) Chlamydia. (2016). Retrieved from https://youngwomenshealth.org/2012/11/20/chlamydia/
(7) Chlamydia Symptoms. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/chlamydia/chlamydia-symptoms