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Images of Chlamydial Infections (1)
Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, which affects the genital tract if acquired through vaginal sex, or the mouth or anus if acquired from oral or anal sex. Chlamydia is spread through unprotected sex with an infected person; it can also be spread from an infected mother to her baby at birth.
Most of the time, chlamydia is a “silent” infection and has few symptoms. However, it is the leading cause of infertility as permanent damage may be done to the woman’s reproductive tract. In men, chronic infection can lead to sterility.
Who's At Risk?
Chlamydia affects more than 3 million Americans each year; infection is most common in teens and young adults (aged 15–24) with new or multiple sexual partners, particularly if protection with condoms is inconsistent. Re-infection of chlamydia happens easily if a sex partner is not treated.
Signs & Symptoms
If symptoms occur, they are usually 1–3 weeks after becoming infected. 75% of women and up to 50% of men have no symptoms (asymptomatic).
Women with infection of the genital tract (cervix, the mouth of the womb; or urethra, the urinary opening), may have a yellow-white vaginal discharge, spotting between periods, fluid discharge from the urethra, or burning with urination. Other symptoms might include belly or low back pain, nausea, fever, or pain with sexual intercourse.
Men with infection may have pus or fluid from the opening of their penis (urethra) or itching or burning with urination.
Infection of the anus (rectum) presents with rectal pain, discharge, or bleeding.
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Seek medical care if you suspect chlamydia. Avoid any sexual activity until a week after treatment is finished. If you are infected, your sexual partner(s) should be checked and treated.
To prevent chlamydia infection:
- Abstinence, monogamy (single partner), or limiting the number of sexual partners all reduce your risk.
- Consistent and correct use of latex condoms reduces risk.
- All pregnant women, all sexually active women under age 25, and older women with new or multiple partners should have an annual screening test for chlamydia.
A test will be done on the urine (in men) or from fluid from the penis or cervix.
If the test is positive, treatment will be prescribed with oral antibiotics (usually azithromycin or doxycycline). All sexual partners should also be tested and treated if positive. If a partner is infected and not treated, re-infection is common.
Persons with infection should not have sexual intercourse until 1 week after treatment is finished in both partners.
Seek medical care if there is any chance you are infected with chlamydia, whether or not you have symptoms. As previously noted, sexually active women should have an annual check for infection.
Bolognia, Jean L., ed. Dermatology, pp.1290. New York: Mosby, 2003.
Freedberg, Irwin M., ed. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine. 6th ed, pp.2209. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.