December 23, 2006

Can I Get Chlamydia By Sharing a Drink?


Question: There's a rumor that my friend has chlamydia. I've never done anything with him, but I have drunk from his soda. Should I get tested, especially if he's had oral sex?

Answer: The short answer is "no," but that wouldn't do justice to the complexities raised by this situation, so I'm not going to let it go at that. Besides, if you finish reading this column too quickly, you could get the bends. Or you might go on to read something else, like that column on legal issues or an article on how to do laundry, and you might never come back here again.

It's true that if your friend has chlamydia, one of the most common of all the sexually transmitted diseases, then he might have it in his throat. After all, if he has chlamydia, he got it by having sex with someone (let's assume a girl) with that germ, and maybe he had oral sex with her, too. Then there's a chance he got the infection in his throat, not just inside his penis. It doesn't pass as easily by oral sex on a girl (mouth to vagina) as by vaginal sex, but it's possible.

These kinds of bacteria are not swimming all over an infected person's mouth, though. They're fussy, like all germs, and probably like me and you. After all, we live in our houses but not just anywhere. I can't survive under the carpet. This turns out to be good on so many levels -- not just for me but for guests who need to get through the living room in wheelchairs.

Chlamydia, for as long as it's able to survive in the mouth, hangs out in the back of the throat around the tonsils. We don't pass our STDs to each other by kissing. (And when I say "we," I actually mean anybody but me.) And not by sharing a drink. Even if your friend were the king of backwash and gargled his drink and then spewed it back into the can, I can't see any STD germs surviving in the soda and establishing a beachhead on your tonsils when you take a swallow afterward.

Of course, your friend might not even have chlamydia. Sometimes the rumor's out there because someone he's had sex with has tested positive for chlamydia. If so, whoever tested her would hopefully have given her the choice of telling him herself or having a disease prevention specialist at the Department of Health tell him without using her name. When that procedure works, someone like your friend knows to get tested and, if he has it, get the medicine to cure it.

On the other hand, last week a patient of mine broke up with her boyfriend because he's been told by three different girls that he's given them chlamydia and he still refuses to get the medicine for it even though he knows he's infecting new girls. If it's true, I guess the jungle that they say is out there has some unattractive specimens swinging from the vines.

My question for you is: Why haven't you brought this up with your friend? I can think of several reasons ; I'm just wondering which is the case here. Maybe you don't want him to be embarrassed, which he probably would be to think that people are saying he's got an STD. If you were in his place, would you rather know or not know about such a rumor affecting your chances of ever finding someone willing to go out with you? You might find yourself wondering why you don't run out of soda as quickly as you used to. But if you knew about it, you could do something about it. For example, if one were so inclined, one could get tested and then lie about how it came out negative, even if it came up positive. As long as sexual contacts are notified (with or without knowing who the infected person was), does one really care if the rest of the world has the facts straight about test results?

If you want to avoid his associating you with an embarrassing moment, or if you fear he might misinterpret it as a mean-spirited accusation or something, you could send him a note or text message without your name. Sign it with something nice and sappy (and true), like "because someone cares." Or you could get somebody professional to contact him and let him know what's what in a most deft manner combining exquisite scientific expertise and nonjudgmental compassion as big as all outdoors with a graceful emphasis on how it could be worse. Like if no one cared enough to make sure he got some help.

Robert Benon is a nurse practitioner with the health centers at Santa Fe and Capital high schools. Questions can be mailed to The New Mexican, For the Health of It, 202 E. Marcy St., Santa Fe, N.M. 87501; e-mailed to [email protected] or phone in to 986-3050.

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