Chlamydia occurs when the Chlamydia Trachomatis bacteria gets into the vagina or penis and causes infection. With an estimated 2.8 million infections each year in the United States, Chlamydia is the most common STD of them all. Chlamydia is so common that it is recommended that doctors routinely screen all sexually active women under the age of 25 during every gynecologic exam (recommended at least once a year).
Chlamydia infections may produce symptoms, or may present in a 'silent' (symptom-free) manner. When symptoms are present, they include abnormal vaginal or penile discharge, abdominal pain, burning with urination, and puss in the urine. These symptoms usually occur within 1 to 3 weeks of when a person becomes infected. Symptoms are only present in less than 50% of Chlamydia infections, however, so regular screening for the Chlamydia bacteria during exams is important for sexually active women.
As is the case with many STDs, people are at risk of Chlamydia infection when they have multiple sex partners, or begin a monogamous sexual relationship with a new partner who may unknowingly carry the bacteria. A past history of prior Chlamydia infection also raises risk of new infection, as does a person's failure to use adequate barrier method contraception (such as the use of latex condoms and dams).
In women untreated Chlamydia infections can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), a serious condition which can lead to infertility. PID is described below in greater detail.
See your doctor if you believe you may have become infected with Chlamydia. Your doctor will do a genital exam and use a cotton swab to take a sample from your vagina or penis which will be sent to the lab. If the test is positive for Chlamydia, you will be prescribed antibiotics which, over the course of one to seven days (depending on which medicine is prescribed) should eliminate the infection. As is always the case with antibiotic prescriptions, you should take the medicine for the full number of days indicated by your doctor even if your symptoms appear to go away before you run out of pills.
People receiving antibiotic treatment for Chlamydia should not have sex while on their antibiotics. They should also not have sex with untreated partners who may themselves still have Chlamydia. If it is you receiving treatment for Chlamydia, you should wait at least one week before having sex and possibly longer until your regular partner completes his or her round of antibiotics too.
It is particularly important that pregnant women receive treatment for Chlamydia. Pregnant women can transmit their chlamydia infections to their newborn baby while giving birth through a process known as "perinatal transmission". About half of mothers who have Chlamydia when they give birth will pass it on to their babies. In infants, Chlamydia infections show up as conjunctivitis (eye infection) or pneumonia (an infection in the lungs). To avoid any transmission of infection from mother to child, it is important that all pregnant women be screened for Chlamydia at least once, and possibly more times during pregnancy. It is important for women to inform their health care provider if they have a new sexual partner or experience symptoms of Chlamydia during pregnancy.
Men and women who are diagnosed with Chlamydia should inform the people they have had sex with during the two months (60 days) leading up to their infection. They should encourage sexual partners to also be tested. While there is no legal mandate making it necessary to inform partners, it is the right thing to do when possible, so that partners are able to be treated, and so that they will not infect other people.