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Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and is caused by a bacteria called Chlamydia Trachomtis. This infection is particularly common in sexually active teenagers and young adults as it passes from one person to the other through having unprotected sex (sex without a condom). Chlamydia affects both sexes, although women are more at risk. In 2014, approximately 250,000 cases of Chlamydia were reported in the UK.
The National Chlamydia Screening Programme announced in 2015 that all sexually active men and women under the age of 25 should be screened for Chlamydia annually at least.
Chlamydia bacterial infection is passed from person to person through the following:
- Having unprotected sex (oral, vaginal or anal)
- Genital to genital contact with an infected person even without penetration or ejaculation
- Sharing sex toys without cleaning them in between uses or using a new condom each time they are used.
- Eyes may be effected if they come into contact with infected vaginal fluid or semen
- Babies can becomes infected at the time of delivery if the mother has untreated Chlamydia
In most cases people who have Chlamydia do not get any symptoms, if symptoms do not develop they may include:
- Pain when urinating
- Unusual discharge from the penis, vagina or rectum
- In women, pain or bleeding during sex, heavier periods or bleeding between periods
- In men, testicular pain
- Throat infection may occur if Chlamydia is passed through oral sex
Symptoms can develop within a few days or weeks of infection, but in some cases they may not appear for months or even years.
Chlamydia is diagnosed through testing of a urine or swab sample taken from the patient. The tests will be done by your GP, local genitourinary clinic (GUM) or sexual health clinic and results normally may take between 7-10 days to process.
It is important to get diagnosed and treated for Chlamydia prompted to prevent any complications of the infection. Annual testing is recommended for all sexually active adults under the age of 25 by the National Chlamydia Screening Programme, in addition to this you should consider being tested if:
- You are having unprotected sex with a new partner
- You or your partner have symptoms of Chlamydia
- You or your partner are having unprotected sex with other people
- You or your partner have another STI
- The condom splits during having sex
- You are pregnant or planning pregnancy
If left untreated or treated incorrectly Chlamydial infection can result in complications including:
- Developing other STIs such as gonorrhoea and HIV
- Pelvic Inflammatory disease (PID) which is an infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes in women
- Epididymitis which is an infection of a coiled tube known as the epididymis, located near the testicles
- Reactive Arthritis or Reiter’s syndrome
Chlamydia can usually be effectively treated using antibiotics and in more than 95% of cases individuals will be cured successfully.
In the UK to two most commonly prescribed antibiotics for the treatment of Chlamydia are:
- Doxycycline: 100mg twice daily for 7 days
- Azithromycin: 1g dose given as a single dose, followed by 500mg taken daily for two days
Both medications are useful at treating uncomplicated urogenital chlamydia infection. They are both antibiotics but work in different ways. Doxycycline is now recommended as first line treatment for this infection, whilst Azithromycin is an useful alternative for those individuals who cannot tolerate Doxycycline or other Tetracycline antibiotics.
Treatment with antibiotics will usually be started following confirmation of the diagnosis via the test results, however if Chlamydia infection is highly suspected (for example if you have various symptoms) then antibiotics may be started before getting the test results.
It is important not to have any form of sexual intercourse ( including vaginal, oral or anal sex, even with a condom) until both you and your partner(s) have completed treatment. This helps prevent passing on the infection to others or catching it again straight away.
If you had the short course of azithromycin to treat this infection, you should avoid having sexual intercourse for a week after treatment.
If you have tested positive for Chlamydia it is important to get all your sexual partners within the last six months tested and if necessary treated for the infection.
Sexual health and GUM clinics have specialised sexual health advisers who can help you contact your recent sexual partners and explain that they have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection and therefore need to be tested promptly. Either you or the adviser can correspond with the individual exposed.