Chlamydia is among the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Over a million cases are reported each year According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis and commonly appears in the genital and rectal regions, as well as throat. It can be spread to other parts of the body through direct contact.
How does chlamydia start? How is it diagnosed and treated? Keep reading for the answers to these and other important questions about chlamydia.
What Is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is commonly referred to as the silent disease because a huge percentage of those who contract it don’t develop any symptoms. According to the data gathered by the CDC, around 70% of infected men and 90% of women don’t develop any symptoms.
This presents a big problem and makes early diagnosis harder. Though chlamydia can be cured, you won’t become immune to the disease after the treatment.
According to the official CDC statistics, over 1.7 million cases of chlamydia were reported in 2017 alone. However, due to the nature of the disease and the stigma that surrounds sexually transmitted diseases and infections, many cases go unreported. The CDC estimates that the real number of new infections is around 3 million each year.
The disease affects both men and women, though women are more vulnerable to it. Women aged between 15 and 24 are particularly vulnerable, with this demographic having the highest infection rates in the country. The CDC thus recommends women under 25, as well as older women who belong to one of the risk groups, to get tested for chlamydia once a year.
How Do You Get It?
Chlamydia is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sex. Anal, vaginal, and oral sex, if done in an unsafe way, can potentially lead to infection. Have in mind that neither side has to achieve an orgasm for the disease to be transferred. Penetration doesn’t need to happen, either. Sometimes just touching genitals can be enough. According to a study published in 2017, men are less likely to contract chlamydia, but women can get rid of it more easily.
Mothers infected with chlamydia can transfer the disease to babies during birth. Therefore, the majority of pre-natal tests include a test for chlamydia.
Sexual assault and rape can raise the risk of transmission, due to the fact that in many cases protection is not used. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, you should get screened as soon as possible.
So, how does chlamydia start? It can start silently or it can start with symptoms. Symptoms, if they develop, appear 7 to 21 days after the infection. Let’s look at the most common symptoms in women and men.
Vaginal chlamydia infection is characterized by pain during sex, lower abdomen pain, bleeding between two periods, cervicitis, burning during urination, and vaginal discharge.
If the bacteria reach the fallopian tubes, they can cause pelvic inflammatory disease. This is a serious condition and is considered a medical emergency. Common symptoms include excessive vaginal bleeding between two periods, sickness, acute pain in the pelvic region, and fever.
If the disease spreads to the rectum, it is usually accompanied by pain, discharge, and bleeding. Chlamydia infection of the throat includes fever, cough, and a sore throat.
Common symptoms in the genital area include burning during urination, green or yellow discharge, as well as lower abdomen and testicle pain. The symptoms of rectal and throat infections are largely the same as in women.
Chlamydia is diagnosed differently in men and women. Doctors usually examine urine samples to diagnose men and take vaginal swabs to diagnose women. Both are then subjected to a series of NAAT lab tests to determine the presence of Chlamydia trachomatis.
Common NAAT (nucleic acid amplification test) methods include TMA (transcription mediated amplification), PCR (polymerase chain reaction), and SDA (DNA strand displacement amplification). These NAAT tests have approximately 90% sensitivity and 99% specificity with both vaginal swabs and urine samples.
Though not scientifically confirmed, there are indications that NAAT tests might be equally effective at diagnosing rectal infections.
Luckily, chlamydia is easy to cure once it’s diagnosed. Since it is caused by bacteria, it is treated with antibiotics. Doxycicline and Azithromycin are the most commonly prescribed antibiotics. The former is usually taken twice a day over a course of 7 days, while the latter is consumed in a single, big dose.
Regardless of which antibiotic you’re prescribed, it is very important to stick to the instructions and take all the prescribed medicine. You should refrain from having sexual intercourse while you’re being treated, as you can still transmit or contract the disease despite the treatment.
After the treatment is over, you may need to start taking some probiotics if the antibiotics have disturbed the balance of bacteria in your gut.
If you discover the infection soon after you’ve contracted it, there should be no complications or consequences. However, untreated chlamydia can cause a wide range of serious complications. They differ between men and women. Here are the most common ones.
Women with untreated chlamydia run a high risk of developing PID which can, in turn, damage their ovaries, cervix, and uterus. Chlamydia can also cause infertility if it reaches the fallopian tubes. Pregnant women with chlamydia can transfer the disease to the newborn baby. Common complications include pneumonia and eye infections. Chlamydia has also been linked to a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
Men with an untreated chlamydia infection commonly develop epididymitis. This is an inflammation of the epididymis, the tubes that keep the testicles in place. Pain is the most common symptom. In some cases, the infection can reach the prostate gland. When that happens, lower back discomfort, fever, and pain during sex are the most common symptoms.
Every sexually active individual can contract the disease. However, there are groups of people that are at a higher risk of catching the disease. Here are the most vulnerable groups:
- Women under 25
- Women and men with multiple sexual partners
- Women and men with partners who have STDs
- Men who have sex with other men
- Men and women who already have other STDs
It is worth noting that the individuals infected with chlamydia can contract HIV more easily if exposed to the virus.
The best way to prevent chlamydia is to practice safe sex. This means using condoms when you engage in vaginal and anal intercourse. Using dental dams is also recommended if you’re engaging in oral sex with your partner.
Practicing safe sex can also protect you and your partner from unwanted pregnancy, as well as prevent an array of sexually transmitted diseases.
Chlamydia, the silent disease, is sometimes very hard to diagnose because many people never notice any signs of infection. Only 10% of women and 30% of men develop symptoms.
The answer to the question “how does chlamydia start” is “silently” in most cases. Therefore, it is in your best interest to practice safe sex and to get checked every time you have unprotected sex.