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Chlamydia: What Women Should Know

What is Chlamydia?

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in Ireland - more than 6000 people tested positive for the infection in 2013 of which 45% were male and 42% were aged 20-24 years (source: health protection surveillance centre (HPSC). Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria chlamydia trachomatis, which is found in the semen or vaginal fluid of those that are infected. Chlamyida can infect the genitals, rectum, eyes and throat.

How is Chlamydia Passed on?

Chlamydia can be transmitted through the transfer of sexual fluids and through genital contact. Chlamydia can be passed on through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. It can also be passed on by sharing vibrators or other sex toys that haven't been washed and covered with a new condom each time they are used. Penetration, ejaculation and orgasm do not necessarily have to occur to pass on the infection. If infected vaginal fluid or semen comes in contact with the eyes you can also get conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eyes).

Symptoms of Chlamydia

Around 50% of men and 70% of women are asymptomatic which means they do not experience any physical symptoms. This means that you may have the infection and not realise it, making it easy to pass on. This is why it is very important to get tested if you have had unprotected sex or think you may have been exposed to a STI.

Symptoms include:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods, heavier periods, pain or bleeding during sex
  • Pain or a burning feeling when urinating
  • Pain in the lower abdomen

If chlamydia is left untreated then it can have series complications:

  • Chlamydia can spread to the womb leading to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID typically causes lower abdominal or pelvic pain,fever,  abnormal vaginal bleeding, discomfort during sex and an abnormal vaginal discharge. PID can lead to infertility, miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the womb).
  • An untreated chlamydia infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and premature labour. It can also cause infection in the eye when passed to a new born baby during delivery. If left untreated this can lead to blindness.
  • Chlamydia can cause inflammation and painful joints in women known also known as sexually acquired reactive arthritis (SARA)

Treatment of Chlamydia

Chlamydia is usually treated with a course of antibiotics, most commonly azithromycin or doxycycline. If you test positive using one of our tests we will send you a free prescription for antibiotic treatment, where clincally appropriate. It should be noted that if you do test positive for chlamydia your partner should be tested and treated as well.

You should not have sex for at least one week after you (and your partner) have finished the antibiotic treatment to prevent re-infection or passing the infection to anyone else. You should also avoid having sex until your symptoms have gone.

Preventing Chlamydia

You should use condoms every time you have sex and a dam (female condom) to cover the female genitals during oral sex. Cover sex toys with a condom and do not share them. You should get tested regularly particularly if you are having unprotected sex or if you have a new or multiple partners. This will help protect you and prevent the spread of chlamydia.