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Chlamydia is passed between people through unprotected sex (including oral). The bacteria can be found in semen, ejaculate, vaginal/internal genital fluids, and rectal fluids.
Pregnant people 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 person has chlamydia, their baby may develop pneumonia
It is common for people, especially women, to not notice symptoms when they have chlamydia. If you have chlamydia but don't notice any symptoms, you can still pass it to someone else. If symptoms do develop, it may take 14 to 21 days after sexual contact before they appear. The most common symptoms may include:
Internal genitals (females)
- A change in fluid from vagina
- Bleeding after sex, spotting between periods or more painful periods
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain in the lower stomach
- Burning or pain when peeing, sometimes the need to pee more often
- Rectal bleeding or pus
External genitals (males)
- Burning or pain when peeing
- Unusual fluid from the urethra
- Itchy feeling inside the urehtra
- Pain and/or swelling in the gonads
- Rectal bleeding or pus
When treated early, chlamydia does not usually cause long-term problems. If left untreated, chlamydia can lead to serious complications including:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) - a serious infection that can lead to infertility or trouble getting pregnant, tubal pregnancies or ongoing pelvic pain
- Epididymitis - an infection in the gonads which can lead to infertility or trouble getting pregnant
- Higher chance of getting HIV
- Reactive arthritis, which includes skin, eye and joint problems
Tests and Diagnosis
To find out if you have chlamydia, you will need to get tested. Testing can be done by urine, or by a swab. Urine tests are preferred for people with penises/external genitals. Swabs are used for people with vaginas, as well as throats, and rectums. Usually you will get tested for other STIs at the same time. Ask your health care provider to also test for syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV.
Most test results are accurate two to three weeks after a person comes in contact with chlamydia, but it may take up to six weeks for some people to get an accurate result. Results can take from 2 to 10 days, depending on where you live and how far away the lab is. It is a good idea to use condoms while you are waiting for your results.
Chlamydia is treated with antibiotic pills, which usually work very well to cure the infection. It is important to complete all the medication and take it as directed, even if you start to feel better. Go back to your health care provider if you still have symptoms after you finish your medication.
Treatment for Partners
If you have chlamydia, you will be asked about who you had sex with in the past two months (60 days). This is because chlamydia is a reportable infection. Anyone you have had sex with will need to be tested and treated. Partners are almost always given medication whether they have symptoms or not. If you have not had sex in the past two months, your last partner should be tested.
There are a few ways you can tell partners about STI testing. Some people want to tell partners in person, others want to tell partners anonymously. You can talk to your health care provider about what ways might work best for you.
Avoid Re-infection or Prolonging Infection
It takes time for an infection to be cleared from the body, so it is important that you do not have penetrative sex (including oral sex) for 7 days after you and your partners start the antibiotic treatment. If you or your partners do not finish the treatment or miss pills, the infection may be passed back to you or your partners and may cause health problems later on. If that happens, talk with your health care provider to see if you or your partners need more treatment.
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