What is it?
Chlamydia, also known as “the clam,” is the most common bacterial STI on college campuses, in the U.S., and worldwide. Chlamydia is a bacterial infection of the genitals, anus, or throat. It’s caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis, and an infection, if left untreated, can damage the cervical reproductive organs and impact fertility. In fact, chlamydia is the leading cause of preventable infertility in the U.S.
How did I get it?
Chlamydia is transmitted during genital, anal, oral, or toy sex, but it can also be passed from mother-to-child. Chlamydia can be prevented by using condoms or dental dams, and due to its commonality it’s important to get tested for it regularly if you are sexually active. Use good judgement with partners, be open and honest in relationships, and if you have a vagina, don’t douche—this can increase your risk of contracting bacterial STIs by eliminating some healthy bacteria in the vagina.
What are the symptoms?
75% of infected women and 50% of infected men have “silent” or no symptoms of chlamydia (so get tested!). But while infected, you can give it to others, and if left untreated, health complications can develop—women can contract pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can cause serious reproductive health issues; men may have pain or swelling around the testicles, although this is rare. For those without “silent” symptoms, chlamydia can be very uncomfortable. Symptoms include a burning sensation while peeing, pain during sex, vaginal discharge, vaginal itch, back or abdominal pain, fever, nausea, or non-menstrual vaginal bleeding, discharge from the penis or rectum, testicular tenderness or pain, and rectal itching or pain; these symptoms will develop 1-3 weeks after the initial exposure.
What do I do when the test comes back positive?
Don’t panic! See a doctor or healthcare provider immediately, because chlamydia is highly curable. 95% of all cases can be cured with a single round of antibiotics, usually tetracycline, azithromycin, erythromycin, and doxycycline. Occasionally, two rounds of antibiotics are necessary, but this is rare. Talk to former and current partners from the last month, and advise them to get tested. It’s also recommended to avoid having sex until after the treatment is complete, or you have been on antibiotics for 7 days. Chlamydia is a reportable disease (meaning the US Department of Health collects data on how many cases occur), so your healthcare provider will likely inform you of reporting practices and guide you on steps to contacting to past partners (see “Talking to Partners”). The healthcare provider, not the patient, is responsible for reporting individual cases to the correct organization, which might include both the DOH and the CDC.