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Articles » Chlamydia: NWHIC

Chlamydia: NWHIC

Article title: Chlamydia: NWHIC

Conditions: Chlamydia

Source: NWHIC


What is chlamydia and how common is it?
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
How is chlamydial infection spread?
Can chlamydia be readily diagnosed?
What are current and potential treatments or cures for chlamydia?
How can I avoid chlamydial infection?

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What is chlamydia and how common is it?

Chlamydial (‘kla-mid-ee-uhl") infection is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Symptoms of chlamydia include abnormal genital discharge which appear within 1 to 3 weeks after exposure. However, half of infected women and 25 percent of infected men may have no symptoms whatsoever. Chlamydia in women can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and thus potential infertility, inflamed rectum (proctitis), and inflammation of the lining of the eye (conjunctivitis). Laboratory tests can confirm presence of chlamydial infection and distinguish it from gonorrhea, another common and often accompanying STD.

Chlamydia is the leading sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States today, with an estimated 4 million new cases occurring each year. A pregnant woman may pass the infection to her newborn during delivery. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a serious complication of chlamydial infection, has emerged as a major cause of infertility of women of childbearing age. The annual cost of chlamydial infections and their sequelae is estimated to exceed $2 billion.

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

Men and women with chlamydial infections may experience abnormal genital discharge or pain during urination. These early symptoms may be absent or very mild, but if they occur, they will do so within 1 to 3 weeks of exposure. One of every two women and one of every four infected men may have no symptoms at all. As a result, the disease is often not diagnosed until complications develop. In addition to pelvic inflammatory disease (see above), chlamydia can cause an inflamed rectum and conjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the eye). The bacteria have also been found in the throat as a result of oral sexual contact with an infected partner.

How is chlamydial infection spread?

Like other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), chlamydia is spread during sexual intercourse via the exchange of bodily fluids through mucous membranes in the anus, mouth, and genital areas. Because there are often no symptoms for chlamydial infection, people who are infected may unknowingly pass the bacteria to their sexual partners.

Can chlamydia be readily diagnosed?

Chlamydia is easily confused with gonorrhea because the symptoms of both diseases are similar, and because they often occur together. Until recently, the only way to diagnose chlamydia was to take a sample of secretions from a patient’s genital area and culture the organism in special tissue culture in the laboratory. While still the most definitive test, it is expensive and technically difficult. Results can take up to 3 days. More recently, however, several rapid tests that use sophisticated techniques and a dye to detect bacterial proteins have been developed and are a readily available test for chlamydial infection.

What are current and potential treatments or cures for chlamydia?

Chlamydia is curable with certain antibiotics like tetracyclin, erthyromicin, and azithromycin (but not penicillin, as is the case for other STDs). It is very important that a person with chlamydial infection take all of the prescribed medication, even after symptoms disappear. To be sure that the infection is cured, a follow-up visit to the doctor of clinic 1 to 2 weeks after finishing the medication may be necessary. Current research is focusing on the creation of rapid diagnostic tests and on the basic process of chlamydial infection.

How can I avoid chlamydial infection?

The easiest and most effective way to avoid chlamydial infections and other STDs is by abstaining from sexual intercourse. If you do have sex, using condoms (rubbers) or diaphragms during sexual intercourse may help reduce the transmission of chlamydial bacteria. Many doctors recommend that all persons who have more than one sex partner, especially women under 25, be tested for chlamydial infection regularly, even in the absence of symptoms.

For more information...

You can find out more about chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases by contacting the following organizations:

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CDC National STD Hotline


This information was abstracted from fact sheets including those developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All material contained in the FAQs is free of copyright restrictions, and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services; citation of the sources is appreciated.

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Publication date: 1998



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