Chlamydia

Young women's version of this guide

male symbolWhat is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the USA. Chlamydia can infect:

  • The penis, specifically the urethra
  • Anus
  • Vagina
  • Cervix
  • Fallopian tubes
  • Eyes

How common is chlamydia?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,758,668 cases of chlamydia were reported in 2018 (in the United States), which is a 19.4% increase from 2014. However, there are many more people with chlamydia who don’t know they have it because they’ve never had symptoms. Adolescents and young adults (ages 15 to 24) are at higher risk of getting chlamydia, since the rates of infection are highest in this age group.

Who is most likely to get chlamydia?

Chlamydia is common among:

  • People under age 25
  • People who have more than one sexual contact (or partner)
  • People whose sexual contact(s) have more than one sexual contactPeople who do not use condoms
  • People with a history of STIs

Talk to your health care provider if you think you think you might be at risk for chlamydia.

How is chlamydia spread?

Chlamydia is spread from person-to-person during unprotected sex. It can be passed through vaginal, anal, and oral sex; essentially through an vagina and/or penis contact. It can also be passed to the eye by a hand or other body part moistened with infected secretions. If a pregnant person has chlamydia they can pass chlamydia to their baby during delivery. Chlamydia cannot be spread by kissing, toilet seats, bed linens, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, silverware, or sharing clothes.

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

The majority of people who have chlamydia do not have symptoms. Only about 10% of people with a penis and 5-30% of people with a vagina with chlamydia will have symptoms. If symptoms happen, they usually start anywhere from 1-3 weeks after becoming infected. People without symptoms can still have complications from the infection and pass it to sexual contacts.

Symptoms of chlamydia can include:

  • A clear or milky discharge from the penis
  • A burning feeling when urinating
  • The need to urinate more than usual
  • Swollen or painful testicles
  • Pain, itching, bleeding, and/or mucus discharge of the rectum (for chlamydia in the anus)
  • Redness, itching, and/or discharges of the eyes (for chlamydia in the eyes)

These symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of gonorrhea, another sexually transmitted infection.

It’s always a good idea to talk to your sexual partner about whether they’ve been diagnosed with an STI, including chlamydia.  If your partner has a vagina it’s important to talk to them about whether they are experiencing symptoms such as abnormal vaginal discharge, vaginal itching and burning, pain with urination (or peeing), or pain with intercourse. If your partner has a penis it’s important to talk to them about whether they are experiencing any of the symptoms above. If your sexual contact is experiencing any of these symptoms, they may have chlamydia or another STI. They should contact their healthcare provider to get tested.

Contact your health care provider if you think that you have chlamydia or may have been exposed to trichomonas through sexual contact so that you can be tested and if needed, treated.

 

Where can I get tested and treated for chlamydia?

You can be tested and treated for chlamydia at most places that provide healthcare, including private private doctors’ offices, hospital clinics, STI clinics, family planning health centers, and health departments. If you are less than 25 years old and have ever had sexual intercourse, talk to your health care provider about getting tested for chlamydia at least once a year and more often if you have any new sexual contacts (or partners), or you have had chlamydia or other STIs before.

How is chlamydia diagnosed?

Health care providers most commonly diagnose chlamydia by testing a urine sample.  Less commonly they may place a small swab in the end of the penis.The same sample can be used to test for gonorrhea, another STI. It is important to get tested in order to tell if you have chlamydia or gonorrhea. They have very similar symptoms, but each needs a different treatment. If you or your sexual contact(s) has a positive chlamydia test, you may need to have further testing to check for other possible STIs

Is there a cure for chlamydia?

Yes. Chlamydia is easy to treat and cure, but remember that just because you’ve had it once doesn’t mean you can’t get infected again. It’s important that you get treated early so that more serious health problems don’t occur.

If you’re diagnosed with chlamydia, your health care provider will give you a prescription for a specific antibiotic (most commonly azithromycin) for both you and your sexual contact(s). You should let your health care provider know about any other medications that you’re taking, any medical problems, and any medication allergies.  It’s important for your sexual contacts to be treated as well.

If you take the complete antibiotic dose, chlamydia is usually cured. You and your sexual contact(s) should avoid sexual intercourse until 1-2 weeks after you have both/all been treated. This means if you took the medicine today, and your partner takes the medicine in 1 week, you should not have sex for 2-3 weeks. Without taking this precaution you may re-infect each other and need to take the medicine again.  We also recommend getting re-tested in 3 months to make sure you didn’t get chlamydia again.

Is chlamydia dangerous?

If chlamydia isn’t treated, it can cause an infection of the tube that connects the testicles to the urethra of the penis (this is called epididymitis). It can also lead to serious complications in a person with a vagina and uterus.

How can I prevent spreading chlamydia?

If you think you have chlamydia, the first thing you need to do is stop having sexual intercourse and get tested and treated. Ask your health care provider if you can get a prescription for your partner (this is called expedited partner therapy, or EPT), or find out if your partner can be seen by a health care provider to get treated. You’ll need to let all current and past sexual partners know that you have chlamydia (anyone that you have had vaginal, anal or oral sex with in the past 60 days – or the most recent sexual partners). You may find this hard to do, but it’s very important so that those infected can get treated before more serious health problems occur.

You can do this in a couple of different ways:

  • You can tell them face to face, over the phone, or via a text message.
  • You can use an anonymous notification application, such as: an email from a reliable website such as bedsider.org. This website will send a confidential email card to your partner(s) for free. Another website, inspot.org will send an anonymous text to your partner(s).

Research has shown that notifying your partner(s) in real time or face to face is the best way to get your partner treated.

Remember: Don’t have sex until you have finished treatment and your health care provider tells you that it’s OK to have sex. Generally that means waiting at least 1 week after you were treated with azithromycin. You also have to wait until your partner(s) have been treated to avoid getting infected again. Make sure you use a condom or dental dam every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

How can I avoid getting chlamydia?

The best way to lower your risk of getting chlamydia is not to have sexual intercourse. However, if you decide to have sexual intercourse, make sure you use a condom or dental dam every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

What types of birth control protect against chlamydia?

The only types of birth control that protect against chlamydia are male latex and polyurethane condoms and female condoms. Latex condoms are the best protection against chlamydia. Polyurethane condoms and female condoms also provide some protection against chlamydia.

If you’re concerned about chlamydia, here’s a tip on how to bring it up with your health care provider: It burns when I pee. Do I have an STI?