Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can affect men and women. An infected person can transmit the disease to their partner through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Although chlamydia can be cured, if left untreated, it can cause severe damage to a woman's reproductive organs.
- 1 1.7 million cases of Chlamydia were reported in 2018.
- 2 Women reported 693 cases per 100,000 and men reported 381 cases per 100,000.
- 3 Chlamydia symptoms vary depending on the sex of the individual and the location of the infection.
- 4 Pregnant women with chlamydia may pass the infection on to their newborns.
Published December 17, 2019
Written by Jane Anderson
Chlamydia is one of the most commonly reported STDs in the United States. Infection rates have been steadily increasing over the last few years, with over 1.7 million cases reported in 2018. Outbreak percentages vary among the 50 states, with Alaska and Louisiana holding some of the highest numbers at 833 and 775 cases per 100,000 people, respectively. The District of Columbia sets the record for the highest rate of documented incidents at 1,299 per 100,000 people.
Reported chlamydia infections differ significantly between the sexes, with females averaging 693 cases per 100,000 and males reporting 381 per 100,000. The highest number of recorded cases for both genders occurs in the 20-to-24 age group bracket.
This guide provides basic information on the STD known as chlamydia. Readers will learn what symptoms to look for and how the disease can progress if ignored. Also, we will discuss screening options, including the types of tests available and where to find clinics that offer free testing. Treatment options for chlamydia are explored along with the length of recovery time and what steps you should take when first diagnosed.
|Infectious Organism||Chlamydia trachomatis|
|Other Commonly Used Names||Clam, gooey stuff|
|Testing Collection Method||Swabs, urine|
|Transmission||Primarily vaginal and anal sex||Prevention||Abstinence, mutual monogamy, latex condoms|
Overview of Chlamydia Testing
The purpose of chlamydia testing is to screen for the presence of chlamydia trachomatis in the bodies of affected men or women. Chlamydia is often considered a silent disease, which means infected persons may not be aware they carry the bacteria in their systems.
Due to the potential health problems that may result from untreated chlamydia in a female’s reproductive system, the CDC recommends the following individuals receive routine annual screenings.
- Sexually active women under the age of 25
- Women over 25 with high-risk behavior (sex with multiple partners, a partner who has an STD, or a partner who has frequent sex with other individuals)
Targeted screening programs are aimed at women and their partners, although men who engage in sex with men and/or multiple partners and men infected with HIV should receive frequent testing as well. Pregnant women under 25 should also be screened with a retest given in the third trimester if the women fall into a high-risk category.
First-catch urine samples and swabs of the endocervix or vagina are the typical methods of obtaining specimens for testing.
How a Chlamydia Infection Works
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as chlamydia are spread from person to person through sexual activities involving the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus. Once the C. trachomatis organism reaches the individual, there may be an extended incubation period of up to several weeks. The infected person may have no symptoms or symptoms may not appear for several months.
Chlamydia usually affects the cervix first in women. The disease can then spread throughout the reproductive organs, including the fallopian tubes and uterus, causing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). Men typically develop infections within the urethra and epididymis (a coiled tube within the testicles). Additionally, the presence of the bacteria in the rectum can cause proctitis in men and women.
While chlamydia is largely asymptomatic, especially in the early stages, long-term infection can lead to permanent damage to the female organs. Additional complications include infertility, risks of ectopic pregnancies, liver inflammation, and reactive arthritis.
Pregnant women with chlamydia may pass the infection on to their newborns. Infant conjunctivitis occurs in 18-44% of delivery cases, and chlamydial pneumonia affects 3-16% of babies born to untreated mothers.
The Symptoms of Chlamydia
Chlamydia symptoms vary depending on the sex of the individual and the location of the infection.
- Cervix (female): discharge containing pus and mucous, abnormal cervical bleeding
- Urethra (female): painful urination, frequent urination
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (female): abdominal tenderness, fever
- Urethra (male): watery discharge, painful urination
- Epididymis (male): testicle pain, swelling
- Rectum (male and female): pain, bleeding, and discharge
Testing for Chlamydia
It’s possible to detect the infectious organism through culture studies, but the most common nonculture application is nucleic acid amplification testing (NAAT). NAAT technologies have decreased the invasiveness of the testing process and lessened the burden of specimen transport, making it possible to collect large amounts of samples at health facilities or even in the privacy of your own home.
The specimens consist of cells obtained directly from the vagina, cervix, urethra, rectum, or throat of infected individuals. Typical collection procedures involve:
- Insert specimen collection swab in the area to be tested (endocervical canal, urethra, rectum)
- Gently rotate/swipe the swab to collect samples
- Place the swab immediately into a collection tube for transport
Urine is also frequently used as a testing vehicle, especially in men and adolescent girls. To ensure urine samples are valid, obey the following tips:
- Avoid urinating for at least one hour before collecting urine.
- Do not cleanse the area before voiding.
Several public health facilities provide chlamydia screenings, including state health departments and Planned Parenthood centers. Additionally, many OB-GYN offices offer STD testing during routine visits for pap tests.
At-home test kits are sold over the internet. They contain full instructions and all the supplies needed to perform chlamydia screening in the privacy of your home. Some require you to mail in your packaged specimen, and others provide results in less than 30 minutes. STD regulations vary by state: Not every state permits the use of mail-in lab testing, and some states offer free testing via their health departments.
It’s common to test for gonorrhea at the same as chlamydia. The symptoms are similar, and people can be infected with both organisms. Sometimes doctors even treat both diseases at the same time.
Treatments for Chlamydia
Chlamydia is entirely curable with prescribed antibiotics. Your medical doctor will determine the appropriate treatment and dosage schedule depending upon the length and severity of the infection. Azithromycin (Zithromax) and doxycycline (Vibramycin) are the two most commonly prescribed medications. The treatment of choice for pregnant women is usually amoxicillin.
Once treatment is complete, the individual should be retested after three to four months. It’s essential to notify all recent sexual partners of your chlamydia diagnosis. This provides a two-fold benefit, ensuring your partners receive adequate medical care before complications arise and preventing the risk of reinfection to yourself. People with chlamydia should avoid any sexual contact during the treatment period and until any symptoms subside.
It’s usually best for patients with chlamydia to refer their partner to a health provider for treatment. However, some states permit the practice of Expedited Partner Therapy (EPT). This lets medical practitioners provide extra medication or prescriptions to the partners of infected individuals.
How is a chlamydia test used?
A chlamydia test kit is relatively simple to use if you follow the provided instructions. The kits will contain items needed for the test, including the swab and specimen holder. Depending on the kit, you may be collecting a small sample of urine or gently wiping genital areas with a specially designed tool to gather cell samples.
Once the lab receives your samples, technicians perform a variety of tests, ranging from culture growth to NAAT genetic DNA tracing of the bacteria to obtain a positive or negative result.
How can I order a chlamydia test?
Several internet websites sell Chlamydia tests. In most cases, these sites also offer medical advice and online doctor consults where you can receive prescriptions based upon a positive test result.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provide a directory of free testing locations throughout the United States.
What does a positive result for chlamydia mean?
If your test comes back positive, you need to seek treatment for the infection. While no analysis is 100% accurate, detection methods using NAAT are incredibly reliable. There are many free or low-cost options if you don’t have a regular doctor or insurance coverage. You should also immediately notify any recent sexual partners of your positive result and refrain from any sexual activity until you are cured.
What does a negative result for chlamydia mean?
If you participated in a chlamydia screening as a routine precaution, you are good to go. Nevertheless, a negative result only indicates that you do not have an infection currently; it’s still recommended that sexually active women under the age of 25 get retested each year.
If you initiated the chlamydia test as a result of unusual symptoms, such as excessive vaginal discharge or abnormal bleeding, you should still see a doctor or clinic professional. There are other STDs and infectious organisms that can cause similar problems.
What’s important to know about chlamydia?
One of the most critical aspects of chlamydia is its absence of symptoms. Approximately 75% of women show no signs of the infection until it becomes severe. For women, an untreated chlamydia infection can eventually cause infertility and significant damage to the reproductive organs. Pregnant women can unknowingly pass the bacteria along to their babies during delivery.
The good news is that chlamydia is entirely treatable with no lasting effects if caught early. That’s why routine screenings are so important.
How long does it take to get results from a chlamydia test?
The type of testing determines the length of time required to get a definite result. Culture-style tests take around 5 to 7 days. NAAT methods are much quicker, typically providing answers in as little as one to two days. Researchers have also developed a rapid STD test that can offer results in approximately 30 minutes. This instant screening lets medical practitioners diagnose and treat the disease the same day, helping reduce the spread of the bacteria.
If you are interested in learning more about chlamydia and its treatment options, check out the links below.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a variety of facts, statistics, and treatment recommendations for STDs including chlamydia.
- Planned Parenthood explains the STD chlamydia and their site includes a search to find a nearby testing site.
- Adolescents can find helpful information on chlamydia testing at kidshealth.org.
- The American Sexual Health Association answers frequently asked questions about chlamydia and the site includes a promotional video on testing.
- Sources [-]
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