Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection. It is the most common illness reported to Public Health in New Brunswick and to health authorities in Canada. It particularly affects males and females aged 15 to 29. Chlamydia is being called the silent epidemic because most people affected do not have symptoms and keep transmitting the infection to others. In New Brunswick, at least one in 10 women and one in 20 men aged 20 to 24 have had chlamydia.
What is chlamydia?
Genital chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI). It is caused by the bacterium (a germ) Chlamydia trachomatis.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
It can take two to six weeks for symptoms to appear. More than 50 percent of infected males and 70 percent of infected females have no symptoms and are unaware of their condition. If present, symptoms may include:
- an unusual discharge from the vagina;
- a burning feeling when urinating (peeing);
- a change in periods;
- pain during sex or blood spotting after sex;
- pain in lower abdomen (belly).
- an unusual discharge from the penis;
- a burning feeling when urinating (peeing);
- burning or itching inside the penis;
- pain in the testicles.
The bacteria causing chlamydia infection may also be found in other body parts including throat and rectum.
How is chlamydia spread?
Chlamydia, with or without symptoms, is spread by having unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex with an infected partner. It can be passed from mother to child during childbirth. Untreated chlamydia can live in the body for months or even years.
How is chlamydia diagnosed?
- Your healthcare provider will diagnose chlamydia based on your medical history and tests. Several tests are available; the most common one is done on a sample of urine. A swab from the cervix (in females) or urethra (in males) may also be used.
- You should be retested for chlamydia 6 months after your diagnosis or according to your health care provider’s recommendation.
- If you are infected with chlamydia, you should also be tested for gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV.
How is chlamydia treated?
- Chlamydia can be cured. It is treated with an antibiotic taken by mouth.
- The person(s) you had sex with within the last two months must also be tested and treated, whether they have symptoms or not.
- You and your sex partner should not have unprotected sex for seven days after starting the treatment.
- Take the antibiotic exactly as instructed.
What happens if chlamydia is left untreated?
- Untreated chlamydia can spread to reproductive organs and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is a serious infection of the uterus (womb), fallopian tubes, and ovaries causing lower abdominal pain. It can lead to ectopic pregnancy and infertility (the inability to have children). pregnant woman with chlamydia may have a miscarriage. She could also pass chlamydia to her baby during childbirth causing an eye infection or pneumonia.
- Untreated chlamydia can cause swelling and pain in the testicles and an inflammation of the prostate. It can also create scar tissue in the tubes that carry sperm and can cause sterility (the inability to produce sperm).
Who is at risk of getting chlamydia?
You are at greater risk of getting chlamydia if you:
- Have unprotected sex with an infected partner;
- Have a new sex partner or had more than two sex partners in the past year;
- Have ever had an STI.
How can chlamydia be prevented?
If you are sexually active, you may lower the risk of getting chlamydia by:
- Knowing your sexual partner’s history;
- Having protected sex - Condoms and dental dams offer good protection but they must be used properly. Condoms should be used for vaginal, anal and oral sex. A dental dam is a thin square of latex that acts as a barrier between the vagina or the anus and the mouth during oral sex. Dental dams can be bought in some stores, or you can make your own using a condom or a latex glove; and,
- Having regular STI check-ups, which are helpful to identify those that have no symptoms.
WHERE CAN I GET TESTED FOR CHLAMYDIA?
Your best option is to visit your family physician or nurse practitioner. However, there are other options if:
You are a university student: Contact your student health centre
You are a college student: Contact your college nurse
You are a high school student and you do not have a health-care provider: Contact your school nurse or visit a sexual health centre
You are 19 years old or younger and do not have a health-care provider: Visit a sexual health centre
You are 20 to 29 years old and do not have a health-care provider: Visit a community health centre