If you’re sexually active – or have at least taken middle school sex education – you’ve already heard the term “chlamydia.” This is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that causes limited symptoms (and in many cases none), but that can cause serious problems if left untreated over time.

For that reason, it’s important to be aware of what chlamydia is and especially of how it’s transmitted. Knowing what to watch out for, as well as how to prevent its spread, are good first steps. However, since it’s not always possible to prevent getting chlamydia, it’s also important you know what to do if you contract it, so you can keep from giving it to others or waiting too long before treatment.

Keep reading for a quick overview of chlamydia, its prevention and general tips for healthy sexual activity.

History of Chlamydia

We have known about chlamydia for more than a hundred years. Going by the Latin name Chlamydia trachomatis, it “was first discovered in 1907 by Stanislaus von Prowazek in Berlin. The genus part of the name, Chlalmydia, comes from the Greek word chlamys, which means cloak and the species part of the name, trachomatis is also Greek and means rough or harsh.” (1)

We now know that chlamydia is a bacteria that enters the host’s cells and feeds off its energy source, ATP. Because the bacteria is unable to make this basic fuel shared by most organisms, it forms a parasitic relationship with the host, often going undetected for long periods of time – hence the word “cloak.”

Luckily, this disease is quite well known and treatable today. But that doesn’t stop it from being widespread.

Chlamydia Prevalence Today

According to Planned Parenthood, chlamydia is far from rare: “Chlamydia is a SUPER common bacterial infection that you can get from sexual contact with another person. Close to 3 million Americans get it every year, most commonly among 14-24-year-olds.” (2)

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics indicate that women are significantly likelier to catch chlamydia than men, although this may be influenced by the fact that women are likelier to be proactive about their reproductive and sexual health, and therefore are just reporting it more frequently. (3)

Nevertheless, statistics indicate that the 20-24 crowd is by far the likeliest to contract the disease, with nearly 4,000 cases per year for women and 1,700 for men. For men, the second most common age group is 20-25, where for women, the second most common is 15-19. Overall, these numbers line up with Planned Parenthood findings.

How Is Chlamydia Transmitted?

Chlamydia is spread from person to person during unprotected sex. It can spread to or from the mouth, vagina, penis or anus. “It can also be passed to the eye by a hand or other body part moistened with infected secretions,” notes the Center for Young Women's Health, so it is important to keep your hands (and other body parts) out of eyes during sexual encounters. (4)

Chlamydia can also spread from a mother to her child during vaginal delivery. If you are pregnant and haven’t been tested since becoming so, it is very important to get tested before you’re due.

Note, adds Planned Parenthood, that “Chlamydia isn’t spread through casual contact, so you CAN’T get chlamydia from sharing food or drinks, kissing, hugging, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, or sitting on the toilet.” (5) Additionally, it is not spread through clothing, bed linens, swimming pools, hot tubs or doorknobs.

Symptoms of Chlamydia

As already discussed, chlamydia is often asymptomatic, meaning there are no signs that you have it. However, over time, signs may develop. In women, these include:

  • Pain or burning while peeing
  • Pain during sex
  • Lower belly pain
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Anal bleeding

For men, the symptoms may include:

  • Pain or burning while peeing
  • Pain during sex
  • Lower belly pain
  • Pus or discharge from the penis
  • Tender, swollen testicles
  • Anal bleeding

If you see any of these symptoms (6), it is critical you speak with your doctor right away to prevent a worsening of symptoms, as well as to protect those around you.

Who Is Most at Risk of Contracting Chlamydia?

Generally, those most at risk of contract chlamydia are between the ages of 15 and 30. For men, the 20-30 age range is most dangerous, while women are more likely to pick up the disease between 15 and 25. Because vaginal tissue is extremely sensitive and likely to tear – thus enabling entrance of the disease into the body – women are more at risk of contracting chlamydia than men are. Several activities also make contraction more likely, including:

  • Having unprotected anal or vaginal sex
  • Having unprotected oral sex (i.e. without using a dental dam)
  • Intimate contact with hands
  • Putting hands into eyes or mouth during sexual encounters
  • Having sex with multiple partners in close proximity
  • Having sex with untested partners

If you fall into any of the above categories, especially if your partner(s) is/are unknown, it’s important you stay on top of your sexual and reproductive health by getting tested regularly.

Is It Curable?

Chlamydia is totally curable with antibiotics. If your physician determines that you have chlamydia, they will prescribe routine antibiotics that will clear up the disease in a matter of weeks. Make sure when taking antibiotics to finish the entire course. This will prevent the disease from returning – and more importantly on a global scale, will reduce the chances of bacteria developing antibiotic resistance, which could have devastating consequences for the worldwide population.

How Can You Protect Yourself Against Chlamydia?

The best way to protect yourself is to practice safe sexual habits. That means minimizing the number of partners, having sex in full awareness of your surroundings and decisions, and wearing protection. If you do engage in some of the riskier sexual behaviors, that’s okay, but make sure to get tested regularly. Remember that not all diseases are as curable or low-stakes as chlamydia. Even chlamydia, left untreated for long periods of time, can lead to infertility and even sterility in women. That makes you, as a woman or a man, responsible for doing your part to keep it out of the population.

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.

References:

(1) Chlamydia (STD). (ND). Retrieved from https://www.austincc.edu/microbio/2704q/chlam.htm

(2) Chlamydia. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/chlamydia

(3) Chlamydia Statistics. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stats.htm

(4) Chlamydia. (2016). Retrieved from https://youngwomenshealth.org/2012/11/20/chlamydia/

(5) Chlamydia. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/chlamydia

(6) Chlamydia Symptoms. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/chlamydia/chlamydia-symptoms