Chlamydia is a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is a bacteria that can spread in semen or vaginal fluid and set up home in the vagina, uterus (womb), urethra (tube for the passage of urine, plus semen in men), the penis, rectum (back passage) and, less commonly, the throat and eyes. Most often you get no symptoms. But signs to look out for are vaginal, penile or rectal discharge – it's usually watery and white or cloudy – or pain when peeing. In the longer term, men may get pain in the testicles and women develop pain in the pelvis, especially when having sex, and bleeding after sex or between periods. Ultimately it can cause infertility if left untreated. It may also cause joint inflammation (reactive arthritis) and irritated red eyes (conjunctivitis). Given the high stakes and the fact that you may have no symptoms at all, it’s important to get tested regularly. This is especially important if you are aged 16 to 25, as this is the highest risk age group. Get an STI test at the change of any partner (use condoms until you both get the all-clear) and at least once a year. If you are changing partners regularly or have multiple partners, get tested every three months.
Chlamydia is highly contagious, and you should get tested and treated. You can catch chlamydia via vaginal, anal and oral sex, and by sharing sex toys. Condoms will protect you. A positive test can sometimes be a surprise, but it’s not always easy to say when and from whom you contracted chlamydia if you’ve had more than one partner – you may have no symptoms or they may take weeks or months to emerge.
You should see your doctor or sexual health clinic urgently if you have symptoms, or if you have been informed a partner has chlamydia, in which case you will be treated regardless of the test outcome. At the clinic, women will be asked to take a vaginal swab from themselves – this is quick and painless – and men will be asked to pee in a pot at least an hour after they last passed urine. This tests for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, another common STI, at the same time. It can take up to two weeks for chlamydia to show up on a test after unprotected sex, but you can get a test straight away and, if negative, follow it up two weeks later. If you have no symptoms, wait two weeks after unprotected sex before getting tested. If you are pregnant, it is especially important to get tested and treated, as this can pass to your baby during birth and infect their eyes, causing conjunctivitis, or lungs, causing pneumonia. This is usually part of the routine screening in the first raft of blood tests from the midwives. Tell any sexual health clinic you are pregnant, as they will consider antibiotics that are safe in pregnancy. Any other symptoms or risk factors will be considered at the clinic, and other tests may be offered, including HIV, syphilis and possibly Hepatitis B.
Treatment is quick and simple: a short course of antibiotic tablets. You must avoid sex or use condoms for seven days after you and your partner have been treated, as you can get re-infected with chlamydia. You don’t need a second test to check the infection has cleared, the antibiotics are a reliable treatment. It’s really important to tell any sexual partners within the previous three months of your positive test – the clinic can help to send anonymous messages if that makes it feel less awkward. Discharge or pain when you pee should clear up within days of treatment, testicular or pelvic pain may take a couple of weeks, and vaginal bleeding may take until the next cycle to improve. If you still have symptoms, return to the sexual health clinic or see your doctor to consider other causes.