What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia can infect anyone. However, the infection is mostly common in young people between the ages of 15 to 24 years. In 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that there are 120 million new Chlamydia cases globally each year. In South Africa 5.8 million new cases are estimated yearly.
How do I catch Chlamydia? What causes Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is primarily transmitted through sexual intercourse (anal or vaginal). Oral sex could lead to a chlamydia infection in the throat. Additionally, Chlamydia can also be transmitted from an infected mother to a baby during the birthing process via the birth canal. Although rare, transmission can also occur when infected fluids (vaginal fluid, cum or pre-cum) make contact with the eyes resulting in conjunctivitis. The infection cannot be passed through casual physical contact or sitting on a toilet seat.
Who is at risk of getting Chlamydia
Chlamydia is one of the four most common STIs. Anyone can get infected with Chlamydia; some people are at a higher risk of getting infected. These factors can increase your risk of getting infected:
- Having multiple sexual partners
- If you are a man who has sex with men
- Not using a condom correctly and consistently
- Having unprotected sex in exchange for money, drugs or gifts
- Abusing drugs or alcohol and then being sexually intimate with a few unknown partners
It would be best to be careful, as many people who are infected with this infection do not show symptoms. If they do have symptoms, they present as mild and can be misdiagnosed as a symptom of another STI. It usually takes 1-3 weeks or even longer for symptoms to appear after exposure.
Chlamydia symptoms women
75% of women do not show any symptoms. If they do show symptoms, they can present as:
- pain during sex
- pain/burning sensation when urinating
- bleeding between periods
- bleeding after sex
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- pelvic pain
Chlamydia symptoms male
50% of men do not show any symptoms. If they do show symptoms, they can present as:
- pain/burning sensation when urinating
- itching/burning in the urethra (the tube that carries urine)
- pelvic pain
- testicle pain
- white or milky discharge from the penis
Both men and women can get Chlamydia in their rectum, eyes, and throat
An anal infection can present with the following symptoms:
- anal bleeding
- anal discharge
- rectal pain
Chlamydia in eye
Infection with Chlamydia in the eyes can cause conjunctivitis, and the following symptoms can be present:
- Mucous discharge from the eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Redness inside the eyes
- Itching of the eyes
- Eyes sensitive to light
Chlamydia in throat
You can catch Chlamydia in your throat by performing oral sex. If you do have Chlamydia in your throat, you could experience:
- pain in the throat area or mouth
- swollen tonsils
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
How does Chlamydia look?
Most of the symptoms do not have visible signs. When the infection does cause visible symptoms, it is different in men and women.
- Discharge: Your vaginal discharge may change. This could include having more discharge than usual. It may be mucousy, stringy or even blood-stained, with pus.
- Cervical inflammation and bleeding: You may have cervicitis. This will only be noticeable if a doctor examines you. This condition causes the outer part of the cervix to appear red. Something to look out for will be if you bleed before or after sexual intercourse.
- A pelvic exam may show pus or swelling: This requires a healthcare practitioner to perform an exam. During the exam, the practitioner would use two fingers to open the vagina and the other hand to feel the abdomen. You may show tenderness in the pelvis, uterus, and fallopian tubes.
- Internal adhesions seen on laparoscopy: sometimes, a laparoscopy may be performed. This is a telescopic examination of the pelvis. To do this exam, you would take an anaesthetic. You could find thin, sticky strings of scar tissue. This would cause parts of the bowel, ovaries/tubes and pelvic tissues to stick together.
Signs in men include:
- Discharge from the penis (through the urethra): The discharge is usually clear and stringy. A specimen can be taken and examined under a microscope for increased white blood cells and bacteria.
- Swollen testicles: men may develop acutely painful testes. If this happens, the testes can become swollen, red and hot. This needs urgent medical attention.
- During a rectal examination:
- A sensitive prostate – when a healthcare practitioner inserts a finger into the rectum, it may reveal a sensitive prostate.
- Anal discharge/ bleeding – A proctoscope is used to inspect the rectum. It may reveal reddening of the rectal area. There may also be discharge and bleeding. In this case, you have proctitis. It is more common to see this in men who have sex with men, caused by rectal Chlamydia.
Visible signs in men and women:
- Painful, red, hot, joint or joints, e.g. knee joint – this can be because of chlamydia-related arthritis
- A red sticky eye with a discharge – Chlamydia can affect the eye, causing conjunctivitis
Can Chlamydia be cured? Does Chlamydia go away?
Fortunately, Chlamydia is curable. As Chlamydia is a bacterial infection, it can be cured with antibiotics. However, the entire course of antibiotics must be taken correctly, as your healthcare provider prescribes. Home remedies are not effective in clearing up the infection. Although some home remedies can help alleviate the symptoms associated with Chlamydia, the infection will still be present in your body and can still be passed on to another person.
Doxycycline is the recommended treatment and should be taken twice a day for seven days. Azithromycin can also be taken in one single dose. Persons being treated for Chlamydia should not have sexual intercourse for seven days after single-dose therapy (azithromycin) or until completion of all seven days of antibiotics (doxycycline).
If you have been diagnosed with Chlamydia, it is recommended to notify your sexual partner so they can also receive treatment. If you have multiple sexual partners, you will need to inform all of them and anyone you have in been in sexual contact with within the past three months. If your partner/s does not get treated, it puts you at risk of being re-infected.
What happens if I don't get treated?
Not getting treated for Chlamydia can lead to serious long-term health complications.
If untreated in women:
Women can develop the pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to:
- chronic pelvic pain/ pelvic inflammatory disease
- tubal/ ectopic pregnancies and
- further progression of the disease in the reproductive system.
During pregnancy, the infection can cause preterm birth and tubal pregnancies, and the infection may pass on to the baby during childbirth. Up to 50% of newborns born to infected mothers will also get infected. Newborns infected with Chlamydia can experience eye and respiratory infections after birth. If the infection is not treated on time, it can cause cornea scarring and permanent eye damage. Infection with Chlamydia or other STIs increases the risk of infection with HIV.
If untreated in men:
Men can develop tender and swollen testicles. Additionally, they can develop a fever and pain in the tubes attached to the testicles. This can, in rare cases, lead to infertility.
It can also sometimes cause reactive arthritis in men and women.
How can I prevent Chlamydia?
- Abstinence is the only effective way to be risk-free of acquiring an STI. Kissing, touching and casual physical contact do not transmit Chlamydia, and these activities are safe.
- Using condoms or other barrier methods during sexual intercourse minimises the risk of infection, although it does not eliminate all the risks.
- Contraception does not protect you against being infected by an STI.
- It’s crucial to thoroughly clean sex toys after each use and not to share sex toys with other people. If you share sex toys, you can cover them with a condom to reduce the risk of transmitting STIs and wash them after each use.
- Getting tested frequently if you are sexually active can help prevent transmitting STIs to other people and allows you to be in control of your sexual health. You’ll be in the position to receive treatment when required and receive the support you need.
Where can I get tested?
In South Africa, Chlamydia is not routinely tested. The syndromic management guidelines manage the infection, whereby the infection is treated based on symptoms. You can request an STD test at private healthcare providers or pathology laboratories. Home testing kits are also available; these can be ordered online.
We offer convenient, discreet, and affordable STD testing at Deep Medical Therapeutics. We have a testing centre in Johannesburg and in Cape Town, and we also provide at-home testing nationwide. Our services include a follow-up virtual consultation and a prescription for treatment all-inclusive in the STD test package price.
DMT labs have a range of different STD and pathology tests. Chlamydia is included in the Comprehensive STD test and the Standard STD test package.
What is needed for a Chlamydia test?
When you get tested, a healthcare practitioner can take a swab of the cervix, throat, rectum or urethra. A urine sample may also be taken. The samples will be sent to a diagnostic lab for processing. The time to receive your results can vary based on your service provider. You can expect to receive your test results at DMT labs within 2-3 working days.