Chlamydia is one of the common diseases transmitted through sexual contact (diseases also known as sexually transmitted diseases or STDs). It comes as a result of the presence of a parasite in the body called chlamydia trachomatis, which is responsible for the development of diseases such as chlamydia and trachoma. A person can get the parasite by means of having vaginal sex, oral sex, or anal sex. It is the most common case of STD in the United States.
The life of the bacterium has two stages: the elementary body and reticulate body, and the parasite completely dependent on the energy of its host because it cannot synthesize its own energy. It is identified as gram negative and may lack muramic acid, which makes the bacterium resistant to some antibiotics. Because it is gram negative, the bacterium has LPS which can affect the body of the host.
Chlamydia trachomatis can affect both women and men regardless of their age, although the disease occurs in more young female patients. It can be treated easily with the use of antibiotics. However, if left untreated, it can become the cause of the development of severe health conditions, such as urethritis and infertility.
People with chlamydia trachomatis are often asymptomatic or do not experience notable symptoms in the first weeks of the occurrence of the disease. In most cases, physical examinations could also not determine its onset, and so once detected, the disease must be cured. After several weeks since its onset, chlamydia trachomatis can cause the patient to experience symptoms.
The symptoms that may be experienced by female patients with chlamydia trachomatis in most cases include the following symptoms:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Vaginal bleeding
- Urethritis (including frequent urination)
- Pelvic pain
- Abdominal pain
- Cervical motion tenderness
- Uterine tenderness
- Painful urination
- Pain in the genitals after sexual intercourse
Meanwhile, men with the disease may experience the following symptoms:
- Urethral discharge
- Testicular pain or tenderness
- Swelling of the testicle
- Rectal pain
- Rectal discharge
- Rectal bleeding
- Penile discharge
- Painful or burning sensation while urinating
Patients may also experience the symptoms of chlamydial conjunctivitis if they have had contact with infected genital fluids. Other symptoms may include rashes. On cases a female patient is pregnant and leaves the STD untreated, she may pass this on to her child during delivery through the birth canal. The baby may show symptoms of chlamydial conjunctivitis; chlamydial pneumonia; and genital, urethral, or rectal chlamydial infection.
As mentioned earlier, chlamydia-infected patients usually do not show symptoms, and in case your partner admitted to having chlamydia or any types of STDs previously or at present, you should still see a doctor for evaluation.
Chlamydia trachomatis can be passed through sexual contact. However, while some STDs affect only the genitals, chlamydia trachomatis can affect both the genital and non-genital areas. It can be passed on through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Mothers can also pass this on to their babies during delivery.
Acquiring the chlamydia trachomatis bacterium is more likely to happen among people who are:
- Sexually active
- Have multiple sex partners
- Not practicing safe sex. The use of condoms is promoted not just for birth control but also to avoid the spread of STDs.
- Formerly patients with any types of STD. People who previously had an STD, such as chlamydia, have a higher risk of developing other forms of STDs later on in their life if they are not careful or mindful of their lifestyle. Patients with gonorrhea are also at risk of getting infected with the bacterium.
Chlamydia trachomatis can be treated by taking antibiotics. However, it is possible for other patients not to realize they have this disease as they do not exhibit symptoms in the onset of the disease. In case they do experience symptoms and still did not seek treatment, they may be at risk of developing serious health conditions through complications.
Some severe disease or health conditions that may occur if chlamydia trachomatis is left untreated include:
- Lymphogranuloma venereum. It can occur when the parasite infects the lesions in the genital mucosa.
- Infection in the reproductive tract. The infection starts in the cervix. If left untreated, chlamydia trachomatis may spread through the upper reproductive tract including in the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tube. This may further lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause a permanent damage to the tissues around the pelvic area. The patient may experience chronic pelvic pain and increases her risk of suffering from an ectopic pregnancy, perihepatitis, or even infertility.
- Reiter’s Syndrome. This can occur in both women and men. Those who have it will likely experience the symptoms of reactive arthritis, which affects the joints, as well as conjunctivitis and urethritis.
- HIV. A person infected with chlamydia trachomatis, as in the case of other patients with STDs, is more susceptible to acquiring HIV, which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Chlamydia trachomatis may be passed on by mothers to their babies during delivery, as the babies pass through the birth canal. Some of the health conditions that newborns may end up suffering from including chlamydial conjunctivitis, genital, urethral, or rectal chlamydial infection; trachoma; and blindness. Trachoma is an eye infection which could lead to the inflammation of the conjunctiva. In worst cases, this condition can lead to the scarring of the cornea and, as a result, the eventual blindness of the patient. Babies infected with chlamydia may also suffer from pulmonary infection including chlamydial pneumonia.
Other complications that pregnant mothers with chlamydia trachomatis may experience include premature rupture of membranes, premature labor, low birth weight, and even miscarriage or infant death.
Men may also experience complications if they leave chlamydia untreated. Some may experience the symptoms of prostatitis, which include painful urination, pain during or after sexual intercourse, pain in the lower back area, fever, and chilling. It is also possible for them to also suffer from the symptoms of epididymitis, which include fever as well as swelling of the scrotum.
Some studies also associate the occurrence of chlamydia trachomatis with the development of cervical cancer, but the link is not definite.
People who are susceptible to developing chlamydia trachomatis may be asked to undertake the screenings. Some tests may include:
- Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) – this help detect not just the onset of chlamydia but also the occurrence of gonococcal infections.
- Cell culture
- Vaginal swab or endocervical swab (through Pap smear)
- Pelvic exam
- Urine-based screening (including urinalysis)
- Rectal, urethral, or pharyngeal swab (for men, the pharyngeal swab is often not recommended as part of routine screening) – Men are only recommended to undertake these screenings if they are sexually active and may be experiencing symptoms similar to that of chlamydia trachomatis.
Pregnant women, especially those who previously had chlamydia or any types of STD, may be asked to undergo screenings during their first prenatal exam. They may undergo tests again later in their pregnancy.
The treatment for chlamydia trachomatis is usually a combination of antibiotics, and the intake may last for as short as 10 days or as long as six months. However, while treatments are now available for STDs like chlamydia trachomatis with the advancement of technology, a person should still opt for the prevention of it rather than cure. This is due to the fact that the disease is considered as recurrent; the acquiring of it does not make the person immune to it later on. It does in fact only increases his chances of having it again later on. For this reason, people who previously had chlamydia should have themselves checked at least every three months.
Partners of those who have or had chlamydia trachomatis should also have themselves checked. While undergoing treatment for the disease, they should abstain themselves from having sex. People with HIV who are infected with chlamydia should also receive the same treatment as patients who do not have HIV.
Infants who are infected with chlamydia can be treated with the administration of antibiotics. It is also important to note that infected patients should take the antibiotics as instructed by the doctor despite experiencing a reduction in the symptoms experienced.
Since chlamydia trachomatis is transmitted sexually, the best prevention is using condoms when having sexual intercourse. Apart from using latex condoms, there is also the female polyurethane condom. Condoms not only act as birth control devices but also as a method of preventing the transmission of STDs. People may also reduce their risk of acquiring the disease by sticking with one sexual partner, who should also remain faithful. People can also prevent acquiring STDs by abstaining from sex.
Another way of preventing the disease is through routine screening. Sexually active men could be screened for urethral or rectal chlamydial infection once in a while, but routine screening is usually recommended for women than men. Also, the medication for chlamydia used by infected patients should not be shared with others.
Women should also prevent douching, as the regular practice of it may reduce the number of good bacteria in the vagina which help prevent the formation of accumulation of bad bacteria and viruses that lead to infections.