Sexually Transmitted Infections and STDs
Chlamydia: What You Need to Know Today
[Author’s note: Welcome to Part 4 of our seven-part series about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), sometimes called venereal diseases or Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). The good news is that as I write this in 2017, researchers are discovering not only new facts, but also new treatments for STIs. The not-so-good-news is that some STIs that were once nearly eradicated are on the rise again and others are becoming resistant to treatment. Click here to read Part 1 of the series. Click here to read Part 2 of the series. Click here to read Part 3 of the series. Come back on Friday, September 8th for Part 5.]
Chlamydia, the most common sexually transmitted infection, is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that if unreported cases are included in the overall count, there are about 2.8 million chlamydia cases every year. Fortunately though, unlike the viral STIs (HPV, HSV, and HIV), chlamydia can most often be cured with antibiotics even during this era of antibiotic resistance.
In encouraging news reported in Nature Communications on April 25th 2017 by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK and collaborators at the University of British Columbia, the researchers have developed novel drug targets for chlamydia.
On the other hand, The American Academy of Family Physicians reported in July 2017 that screening for chlamydia had dropped after a change regarding the recommended frequency of cervical cancer screenings. This is because the two screening tests are often performed during the same visit to a gynecologist. Because chlamydia is typically a “silent infection” with no symptoms in the beginning, a reduction in screening is dangerous. Left untreated, the infection can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease as well as infection of the fallopian tubes, which can cause infertility. Chlamydia can also spread to the rectum even without anal sex. All sexually active women age twenty-five years and younger should be tested annually for chlamydia. A yearly screening test is also recommended for older women who have new partners.
Young girls and young women are at a higher risk of chlamydia than are older women much because chlamydia infects the lining cells of the transformation zone in the cervix, which is more exposed and accessible at younger ages.
Chlamydia can be contracted as a result of vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected partner. Also, a pregnant woman who is infected can pass the infection on to her baby during the birth process. In addition, chlamydial eye infections can be spread by personal contact and by sharing items such as towels.
Symptoms of Chlamydia
If symptoms do occur, they may include the following:
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- burning during urination
- pain in the lower abdomen
- pain in the lower back
- painful intercourse
- bleeding between menstrual periods
Several urethral and cervical swab tests can reliably identify a chlamydia infection. Some tests detect the presence of chlamydia through antigen or DNA testing without a culture. Urine tests can reveal hidden chlamydia in both women and men.
In addition to the new drugs mentioned at the beginning of this article, standard antibiotics work well, including, azithromycin, doxycycline, and erythromycin among others.
If one partner is diagnosed with chlamydia, the other partner should be tested right away. You should not have sexual relations until the infections have been successfully treated. Follow up tests are recommended threes months after treatment to check for reinfection. Use of condoms is a good idea during this period, as well as with any new partner.
Again, come back on Friday, September 8th for Part 5 of our series on STIs!
Sondra Forsyth is Co-Editor-in-Chief of thirdAge.com.