Chlamydia

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
08l
Sexually Transmitted Infections Series
Last Updated: 
January 2014

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria. In women, the infection may occur in the opening to the uterus, also known as the cervix, and the fallopian tubes. In both men and women, the infection may occur in the rectum, throat, and the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine from the bladder.

To find out if you have chlamydia, you need to see a health care provider and have lab tests done.

How is it spread?

Chlamydia is passed from one person to another by contact with body fluids containing the bacteria during unprotected oral, anal, and vaginal sex.

A person with chlamydia can have no symptoms, so they may not be aware that they have the infection. This increases the possibility of passing the bacteria to another person.

Pregnant women may pass the infection to their baby's eyes during childbirth. This may lead to blindness if the baby is not treated. If a pregnant woman has chlamydia, her baby may be born prematurely or develop pneumonia.

Chlamydia treatment does not protect you from getting it again. If you are treated and your sex partners are not, the bacteria will be able to pass back to you again.

What are the symptoms?

Chlamydia often does not have symptoms. When they do occur, men and women may experience different symptoms.

Men

  • Clear or mucous-like discharge from the penis
  • Pain or burning with urinating
  • Itching or irritation in the urethra, or the tube that the urine passes through.
  • Sore throat

Women

  • Change or increase in discharge from the vagina
  • Pain or burning with urinating
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Pain with vaginal sex

For more information on cervicitis caused by Chlamydia, see HealthLinkBC File #08f Cervicitis.

In both men and women, a chlamydia infection in the rectum may cause discharge from the rectum, rectal pain, mucous with stools, painful bowel movements, anal lesions, and redness in the anal area.

Symptoms usually start 1 to 3 weeks after being exposed to the bacteria. Sometimes it can take as long as 6 weeks for the symptoms to appear.

What are the complications?

If treated in time, chlamydia causes no lasting concerns. Untreated chlamydia can lead to complications as the infection spreads to other areas of the body.

In women, complications may include difficulty getting pregnant, ectopic or tubal pregnancy, or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). See HealthLinkBC File #08c Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) for more information. In men, complications can include infection in the testicles and the epididymis, resulting in infertility or an inflammation of the prostate.

In both men and women, untreated chlamydia can cause reactive arthritis which includes skin, eye and joint problems.

What is the treatment?

The treatment for chlamydia is antibiotic pills. It is important that anyone that you had any oral, vaginal, or anal sex with in the last 2 months, is offered treatment whether they have symptoms or not.

Because re-infection with chlamydia is common, it is important to not have sex for 7 days after starting treatment for chlamydia and a follow-up test 6 months after treatment. Pregnant women should have a follow-up test 4 to 6 weeks after completing treatment.

It is important that you do not have any unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex until you and your partners have finished taking all of the antibiotic pills. Take all of the medication exactly as instructed.

Will my birth control pills work if I am taking antibiotics?

Birth control pills may not work as well when you are taking certain antibiotics. If you are being treated with antibiotics, keep taking your birth control pills and use a second form of birth control, such as a condom, until your next period after completing the antibiotics.

How can I reduce my chance of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

Practice safe sex by using a condom

When used as directed, male and female condoms help prevent the spread of many STIs, including HIV, during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Condoms are less effective at protecting against STIs transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes simplex, genital warts (human papillomavirus or HPV), and syphilis.

Important things to remember when using condoms:

  • Check the condom package for damage and to ensure the expiry date has not passed.
  • Carefully open the package so that the condom does not tear.
  • Keep condoms away from sharp objects such as rings, studs, or piercings.
  • Store condoms at room temperature.
  • A new condom should be used every time you have sex.
  • Use only water-based lubricants with male latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, lotion, or baby oil can weaken and destroy latex.
  • Avoid using spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 (N-9). It irritates sexual tissue and may increase the chance of getting an STI.

Get vaccinated

Some STIs, such as hepatitis A, B and human papillomavirus (HPV) can be prevented with vaccines. Talk to your health care provider about how to get these vaccinations.

Know your sexual health status

If you have recently changed sexual partners, or have multiple sex partners, getting regularly tested for STIs will tell you if you have an infection. Finding and treating an STI, (including HIV) reduces the chances of passing the infection on to your partner.

The more partners you have, the more likely you are to be exposed to a sexually transmitted infection.

Talk about prevention

Talk to your partner about STIs and how you would like to prevent them before having sex. If you are having trouble discussing safer sex with your partner, talk about it with your health care provider or a counselor.

For tips on how to talk to your partner, visit the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) SmartSexResource at smartsexresource.com/sextalk/talk-about-it.

Informing Partners

If you have a sexually transmitted infection and are sexually active, it is important to tell your sexual partners. This will enable them to make decisions about their health and getting tested.

For More Information

For more information on how you can reduce your chance of getting an STI, see HealthLinkBC File #08o Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).

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Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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