What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a curable sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is the most common STI in Ireland (source: health protection surveillance centre (HPSC), and can be transmitted by having unprotected sex. According to the HPSC, more than 6000 people tested positive for the infection in 2013 of which 45% were male and 42% were aged between 20-24 years.
Causes of chlamydia
Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia Trachomatis. These bacteria are found in the semen and vaginal fluid of people with the infection.
Chlamydia is transmitted through the transfer of sexual fluids and through genital contact. You can catch Chlamydia through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected person (sex without a condom). Penetration, orgasm or ejaculation do not necessarily have to occur to pass the infection. This means you can get chlamydia just from genital contact with someone who has the infection. It may also be passed on if you share sex toys and don't wash and cover them with a condom each time they are used.
Chlamydia can infect the rectum, eyes or throat if you have unprotected anal or oral sex. If infected semen or vaginal fluid comes into contact with the eyes you can also develop conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eyes).
Symptoms of chlamydia
Most people who have chlamydia don't notice any symptoms, meaning it can be passed on quite easily without either partner realising they have it. Around 50% of men do not show any symptoms, while approximately 70% of women do not show any symptoms. Therefore it is important to get tested if you have had unprotected sex and think you may have been exposed to a STI.
If you do experience symptoms the following are the most common:
- discomfort when urinating
- discharge from the tip of the penis (this can be a white, cloudy or watery discharge)
- pain in the testicles
Even if symptoms are mild or disappear you should still be tested as you may still have the infection and be able to pass it on. If chlamydia is left untreated then it can lead to more serious complications:
- Epididymitis is when the part of the man’s reproductive tubes (that carries sperm from the testicles) become swollen and painful. If the testicles are affected it is called epididymo-orhitis, which can cause swelling and tenderness inside the scrotum. If left untreated, epididymitis can sometimes lead to infertility
- Chlamydia can on occasion cause a reactive arthritis (inflammation of the joints). In some people the arthritis develops as part of a syndrome where they also develop inflammation of the urethra (urethritis) and the eyes (conjunctivitis)
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 if clinically appropriate. It should be noted that if you do test positive for chlamydia, you should have your partner checked 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.
You can help to prevent the spread of chlamydia by using condoms every time you have sex, using a dam (female condom) to cover the female genitals during oral sex, not sharing sex toys and getting tested regularly - particularly if you have had unprotected sex, have multiple partners or a new partner.