Most people have heard of chlamydia, know someone who has had it, or at least remember the vague outlines of their sex education classes in middle school. Despite its widespread notoriety, however, most people don’t know what chlamydia is – let alone what it looks like once contracted.
Unfortunately, that makes it much likelier that you will pass it on to an unsuspecting partner, or that you will get it from someone whose symptoms you don’t recognize. To avoid this, and to reduce the chances of its spread, it’s time to rectify that problem.
What Is Chlamydia?
“Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease. It is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis,” explains Medline Plus. “It can infect both men and women. Women can get chlamydia in the cervix, rectum, or throat. Men can get chlamydia in the urethra (inside the penis), rectum, or throat.”
This bacteria takes over the host’s cells and puts its energy resources to work feeding it. Your body does not build up immunity, and while there are no scientific tests as to whether or not people can get rid of chlamydia on their own (because no research team would ever get funding to watch and wait while chlamydia developed in a subject), it seems likely that people carry chlamydia for a long time after acquiring it.
So how common is it, and how exactly does that happen?
Chlamydia Prevalence and Transmission
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of 2017, there were more than 1,700 cases of chlamydia reported by men and nearly 4,000 reported by women. These numbers are likely far lower than reality, given the fact that many (if not most) people carrying chlamydia do not know it. The most likely age for both men and women to get chlamydia is between 20 and 24, with 15-19 being the next highest age range for women and 25-29 for men. (1)
These numbers may be much higher according to other sources. For instance, says Teensource, “as many as 1 in 10 young women test positive for it. In 2016, over 1 and a half million cases of chlamydia were reported to the CDC in the US. In California alone, there were almost 200,000 reported cases of chlamydia in 2016.” (2)
Chlamydia spreads between people engaged in sexual contact. That includes oral, vaginal and anal sex, but can also spread by hands moistened with sexual fluids. Chlamydia may spread to the eyes, throat and mouth if you rub your hands in those areas, or if the mouth comes into contact with infected parts of the body.
The Most Common Symptom Is No Symptom
Unfortunately, the most common symptom of chlamydia is … none at all. Chlamydia is very good at going undetected, an evolutionary advantage for the bacteria that allows it to continue infesting its host. Because you don’t know you have it, you are likelier to transmit it to others as well as less likely to take antibiotics to get rid of it. That is the unfortunate truth about this disease and a compelling reason for getting tested frequently (discussed below).
Even when there are symptoms, many people don’t see them for what they are, says Planned Parenthood: “Sometimes the signs of chlamydia are so mild that people don’t notice them, or they mistake the symptoms for something else.” (3) Women often assume signs are from a yeast infection, while men may assume they are just a temporary bug that will pass. Because these signs are so easily overlooked, it’s important to know exactly what they are and see a physician if you experience even mild examples.
It’s important to remember that like many STDs, chlamydia can pass easily from genitals to mouth and back again. There is no “kind” of sex that can avoid chlamydia if there is a transfer of bodily fluids. However, chlamydia does not pass from toilet seats, doorknobs, sheets, clothing or other objects to people.
Chlamydia Symptoms for Men
The most common chlamydia symptoms for men include (4):
- Pain or irritation in the penis
- Burning or itching while urinating
- Pus or watery/milky discharge from the penis
- Swollen, tender testicles
- Bleeding or discharge from the rectum
- Pain in the rectum
- Sore throat
- Conjunctivitis in the eyes
If these symptoms go on too long, chlamydia can eventually damage a man’s fertility.
Chlamydia Symptoms for Women
The most common chlamydia symptoms for women include (5):
- Pain or burning during urination
- Pain during sex
- Lower belly or abdominal pain
- Bleeding between periods
- Abnormal bleeding
- Abnormal discharge from the vagina
- Abnormal fishy smell
Left untreated, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disorder, which can affect the uterus and fallopian tubes, leading to ectopic pregnancies (which are potentially life-threatening), infertility and potentially sterility. Pregnant women with chlamydia are at a greater risk of going into labor early or spontaneously aborting a pregnancy. (6)
How to Avoid Getting Chlamydia
The best way to avoid chlamydia is to use protection. Safer sex includes wearing condoms or internal barrier devices, using dental dams during oral sex, vetting sexual partners thoroughly before engaging in any kind of intimacy, and regularly getting tested.
The Importance of Testing
As Planned Parenthood explains, “Chlamydia can lead to serious infections and even infertility if you don’t treat it. But it’s usually easy to cure it with medicine if you catch it early. This is why regular Chlamydia STD testing is so important, no matter how healthy you feel.” (7)
You should test every time you:
- Have unprotected sex with a partner whose sexual history is unknown
- Every year if you have switched partners, even if you believe them to be clean
- If you have had encounters while drunk or high
- If you feel any of the above symptoms, even if you believe them to be the result of something else
If you do test positive, it’s important not only to make an appointment with your doctor, but to inform any sexual partner whom you might unintentionally have infected. That way, they can see a doctor as well and help to curb the spread of disease.
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 chlamydia at home test kit today.
- (1) Chlamydia Statistics. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stats.htm
- (2) Chlamydia. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.teensource.org/std/chlamydia
- (3) Chlamydia Symptoms. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/chlamydia/chlamydia-symptoms
- (4) Chlamydia Symptoms. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/chlamydia/chlamydia-symptoms
- (5) Chlamydia Symptoms. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/chlamydia/chlamydia-symptoms
- (6) Chlamydia in Pregnancy. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.zavamed.com/uk/chlamydia-in-pregnancy.html
- (7) Chlamydia Symptoms. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/chlamydia/chlamydia-symptoms