When you think about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), syphilis and gonorrhea are probably the first words that come to mind.
But the most common bacterial STD is a name that may be new to you — chlamydia. About 4 million people are infected with chlamydia each year, and many of those people are in their teens and 20s.
The good news about chlamydia is that it is easily cured with antibiotics. You might wonder why chlamydia is so widespread since it is so readily cured. Part of the problem is that chlamydia is very contagious through all forms of sex, including oral sex and “heavy petting.”
People often do not know they have chlamydia. The government estimates that about 70 percent of women and 50 percent of men show no symptoms of chlamydia infection.
When they do occur, early symptoms are usually mild. For women, they may include vaginal discharge, pain during intercourse and pain while urinating. Men may also have pain when urinating, discharge from the penis or pain in the testicles. Both men and women may develop redness or irritation in the infected areas. Chlamydia can also infect the eye, the throat and the rectum.
People who develop early symptoms may be the lucky ones, because they can go to the doctor for diagnosis and prompt treatment. When it is undetected, chlamydia can have serious long-term complications, including sterility in both men and women.
Men sometimes develop inflammation of the testicles or a prostate infection. Among women, chlamydia is the foremost cause of preventable infertility. It can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which in turn can cause scarring of the fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancies and infertility. The government estimates that up to half of all PID is a result of chlamydia infection.
Chlamydia may also cause pregnancy complications, and infection can be passed on to the baby. Infants born with chlamydia are at higher risk of eye infections that can lead to blindness, pneumonia and death.
Prevention and Early Detection
The tragedy of chlamydia is that its prevalence could be drastically reduced with greater awareness and caution. Using condoms lowers your risk of catching chlamydia, but they are no guarantee.
If you are sexually active, with more than one partner, ask your doctor about a test for chlamydia, or call a public health clinic. This is especially important for women in their teens and early 20s. A short course of antibiotics now is a small price to pay for good health later.