What Is It?
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that often infects a woman’s cervix, but can also infect the urethra, throat, rectum, and eyes in both men and women.
Who has it?
It’s estimated that 3 million cases of Chlamydia occur every year in the US, but only half of those cases are reported and treated. Even at nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases per year, Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD in the United States. Both men and women are at risk, and as many as 1 in 10 young women test positive for it.
How do you get it?
Like most STDs, Chlamydia is transmitted through any type of unprotected sex — meaning sex without a condom. The bacteria that cause Chlamydia are drawn to the tissues lining the openings of you body; like the vagina, the rectum, the urethra, and the throat. Usually Chlamydia is passed through vaginal and anal sex, and though it’s not as common, it’s possible to get Chlamydia from oral sex.
How do you know you have it?
This is where Chlamydia gets serious: most people infected don’t even know they have it! 50% of men and 75% of women with Chlamydia don’t show symptoms. So many young women infected with Chlamydia are symptomless that it is sometimes called the “Silent Epidemic,” causing so much damage without making its presence known. However, sometimes people show symptoms like burning when they pee, thick yellow or clear discharge from the penis or vagina, or pain and/or bleeding during sex.
How do you test for it?
There are a couple simple ways we test for Chlamydia. One way is a simply and totally painless urine test. The other is by collecting a swab sample from the vagina or cervix for females, or from the urethra for males.
Can you get rid of it?
The happy ending of Chlamydia infection is that it can be cured quickly and easily with antibiotics. It’s best to stay away from sex for seven days — the times it takes for the antibiotics to work — but if do have sex during that time, it’s super important to use a condom. If you don’t use a condom, you’re still likely to pass the infection along. Antibiotics are given at specific doses for a specific numbers of days, and you have to make sure to take all of the pills. Even if you feel like you’ve gotten better, the infection might not be cured if you don’t finish the medication.
How do you keep from getting it?
Abstinence is the only 100% certain way to avoid Chlamydia. However, if you are sexually active, a good way to avoid Chlamydia is by being mutually monogamous with a partner who is not infected. If you test positive for Chlamydia and are treated, you should get tested again in three months to be sure you don’t have it again.
To play it safe, you should get tested for Chlamydia every year if you’re under 25 and sexually active.
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
If it goes untreated, Chlamydia infection can spread to the uterus or fallopian tubes in women, and may cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause some serious permanent damage to the body, which can lead to infertility, chronic pelvic pain, and potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (which is when a pregnancy happens outside the uterus). For men, complications from infection are less common and less serious, but can still cause fever, pain, and sometimes, sterility.
Worried about STDs? Your local family planning clinic can help.
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