Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. It affects both genders, and in most cases, people do not develop signs or symptoms, which mean that one may not know he or she has it.
Chlamydia occurs in all age groups, but it is most prevalent among young women. Once you know you have it, chlamydia is easy to treat, but if left untreated, it can lead to severe health complications.
Facts and Figures
Chlamydia is the most common type of sexually transmitted disease. It is 50 times more common than syphilis and more than 3 times more common than gonorrhea. According to the World Health Organization, over 1 million sexually transmitted diseases are acquired every day in the entire world.
Cumulatively, around 357 million people are infected with 1 of the 4 main STIs, namely gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. The majority of these infections are individuals diagnosed with chlamydia.
A study conducted in Nairobi Kenya in 2013 among women attending clinics and tested for STIs showed that 6% had genital chlamydia trachomatis. The prevalence was higher in women who represented a higher socioeconomic level, although the difference was not significant.
As mentioned, most people infected with chlamydia do not show any signs or symptoms, but in a few people, certain symptoms start to show up 5 to 10 days after contracting the infection. In women, the signs and symptoms may include:
- Large quantities of vaginal discharge that is yellow and has foul-smell
- Abdominal pain
- Low-grade fever
- Bleeding between periods
- Burning with urination
- Painful intercourse and bleeding after sex
- Swelling in the vagina or around the anus
- Urge to urinate more often and discomfort during urination
In men, the signs and symptoms may include:
- Penile discharge (watery, pus, or milky discharge)
- Testicle swelling and tenderness
- Testicular pain
- Pain and burning with urination
If the rectum is affected in both women or men, it can lead to anal irritation.
Chlamydia is caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis, which most commonly spreads through oral, vaginal, and anal sex.
It is equally possible for a mother to spread the infection to an infant during delivery, which causes pneumonia or a serious eye infection in her newborn.
All sexually active people are at risk of chlamydia, but those at the highest risk include:
- Multiple sex partners within 12 months
- Being sexually active before 25 years
- Not using a condom consistently
- History of previous STI
If it remains untreated for years, Chlamydia may cause:
- Other sexually transmitted infections including gonorrhea and HIV
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Infection near the testicles (epididymitis)
- Prostate gland infection
- Infection in newborns such as pneumonia and eye infection
- Infertility because it can cause an obstruction in the fallopian tubes
- Reactive arthritis
There are a few tests that the doctor can conduct to diagnose chlamydia.
The doctor will ask if there are any signs and symptoms, or history of previous STI.
With or without symptoms, the doctor will mostly use a swab to take a sample from the cervix in women or from the urethra in men and send the specimen to the lab for analysis.
Urine sample test may also be used to determine the presence of the trachomatis bacteria.
Since chlamydia mostly does not present symptoms, health officers recommend screening for some people. Screening is recommended for:
- Women under the age of 25 years
- Pregnant women
- High-risk females and males
Both urine sample test and using a swab can be used for the screening procedure.
Chlamydia is normally treated using a short course of antibiotics. The treatment may be a one-time dose of the antibiotics, or you may require medicine every day for 7 days.
The most common antibiotics used to treat chlamydia in Kenya include azithromycin (Zithromax) and doxycycline. They are used according to doctor’s prescription. Therefore do not go for over-the-counter medications for chlamydia.
Note that antibiotics cannot repair any permanent damage caused by the disease.
Make sure you heal well before you have sex to prevent infecting your partner. If you got a one-time dose of antibiotics, you need to wait for one week after taking medication to have sex again.
If you have taken medication every day for 7 days, you should disengage from sexual activity until you finish the dose and take about 7 more days to heal entirely before having sex again.
The doctor will likely ask you to bring your sex partner to be treated as well before you proceed to have sexual intercourse.
The surest way to prevent chlamydia is to abstain from sexual activities. If that is not the case;
- Use condoms for protection to reduce the chance of infection
- Get regular screenings
- Limit the number of sex partners you have
- Avoid douching: Douching minimizes the number of good bacteria that exist in the vagina, and that increases the risk of infection.
For more information on treatment, speak to a doctor, or get access to a hospital near you through the Uzima Health App.