Chlamydia is a common bacterial STD that is easily curable with prescription antibiotics. It is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis and is the most commonly reported STD in the U.S. An estimated 2.86 million Americans get chlamydia each year.
Most people who have chlamydia do not show any symptoms, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get tested. If chlamydia is left untreated, it can cause irreversible damage to your reproductive system or even infertility.
Many people with chlamydia don’t have noticeable symptoms. When chlamydia symptoms do appear, they typically present themselves 1-3 weeks after exposure to the bacteria.
For women, symptoms can include:
The infection can migrate up the reproductive tract from the vagina, going all the way up to the cervix. It can then spread to the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and uterus. If the infection spreads, women can experience abdominal and pelvic pain, fever, nausea, bleeding between periods, and pain during sex. For pregnant women, it can rupture membranes prematurely, cause early delivery, and a small chance of tubal pregnancy.
For men, symptoms can include:
A chlamydia infection in men can travel up the urethra and down to the testicles, causing swelling and tenderness. There may be a watery or white-ish discharge from the tip of the penis as well.
For both men and women, symptoms can include:
Chlamydia is spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex with an infected person. It can also be spread via shared sex toys. It is also transmittable even if a male partner does not ejaculate inside a vagina. The chlamydia trachomatis bacteria is found in the fallopian tube, cervix, rectum, throat, urethra in a penis, and in some cases, the cornea of an eye. Chlamydia cannot live on the surface of the skin. Its main primary point of infection is delicate, soft tissue.
In addition, chlamydia can be passed from mother to infant during vaginal childbirth, causing pneumonia and eye damage in the newborn. Screening and treatment of chlamydia in pregnant women is the best way to prevent neonatal chlamydia. Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics that are safe enough to take during pregnancy. More than likely, one round of antibiotics will kill off the infection. Your doctor can prescribe a single dose or a dose you take throughout the course of a week.
You can’t get chlamydia from mouth-to-mouth kissing. However, if you’re kissing your partner’s genitals and engaging in oral sex, you may be at risk.
Chlamydia is not spread via toilet seats, swimming pools, towels, or hugging.
Anyone who is sexually active can get chlamydia, especially if they are having unprotected sex. However, certain groups of people are at higher risk because of behavioral and biological factors.
Chlamydia is particularly common in young people ages 15-24, who account for almost two-thirds of all chlamydia cases.
Female anatomy can also put women at an increased risk of STD infection. Compared to the skin of the penis, the thinner, more delicate lining of the vagina is easier for the bacteria to penetrate.3 An estimated 1 in 20 sexually active young women between ages 14-24 has chlamydia.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) are also at a higher risk and can get chlamydia via oral and anal sex.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends at least yearly chlamydia screenings for:4
The CDC also recommends that pregnant women get tested for chlamydia. All pregnant women should be screened for chlamydia during their first prenatal visit. Retesting in the third trimester is recommended for pregnant women younger than 25.
Abstinence is the only way to be sure you will not get chlamydia or any other STD. However, if you do have sex, there are ways to reduce your risk. There are legitimate questions to ask, like, “Do condoms prevent chlamydia?” There are many different precautions you can take to protect yourself from this infection. Several different barrier options are on the market today, like condoms for penetrative sex and dental dams for oral sex. Also, latex gloves are an option as an extra protective measure for any touching.
You can decrease your risk of contracting chlamydia by:
If you or your partner(s) have symptoms or you think you may be infected, get tested before having sex again. If you test positive and get treated, you should notify your current and recent sex partners so they can get checked and treated too. Wait until all symptoms have cleared. The doctor will advise you to take the antibiotics until they run out. The CDC recommends getting tested 3 months after successful treatment with prescribed antibiotics.
Speaking openly with your partner(s) about sexual health and getting regularly tested (even when you don’t have symptoms) helps you know your status and protect your health. If you are in a mutually monogamous relationship, then getting tested once a year is adequate. However, if you are sexually active with multiple people, then getting tested every 3 to 6 months is better due to the frequency of partners.
Chlamydia will go away with the right medications. For both males and females, treatment is the same. The infection is curable when taking antibiotics that only a healthcare provider can prescribe to you. You’ll likely be prescribed azithromycin or doxycycline. Azithromycin is taken as one 1g dose, then a 500g pill for two days. Doxycycline is an entire week, every day.
Medically Reviewed by William Terranova, MD on March 20, 2023Written by STD Check Editorial Team on March 23, 2022