Chlamydia, the most commonly reported STI in Hawai‘i as well as in the United States, is caused by the bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis. Symptoms of chlamydia are usually mild or absent, but serious complications, including infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease (in women), can happen “quietly” before an infection is detected. Fortunately, chlamydia is curable with the right antibiotics.
In 2018, Hawai‘i was ranked 21st in the U.S. for rates of chlamydia cases (541.8 per 100,000 population).
Why is it important to treat chlamydia?
Untreated chlamydia in women can lead to severe reproductive health problems including infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is a common result of untreated chlamydia infections, it develops when the bacteria causing chlamydia moves upward from a woman’s vagina or cervix and into her reproductive organs. PID can lead to painful, permanent damage of a woman’s reproductive organs. It is important to note that chlamydia can lead to PID in women even when there are no initial symptoms.
Untreated chlamydia in women can also cause vaginal discharge, urinary tract infections, and miscarriage. The infection can be passed from mother to child during childbirth which can lead to an eye infection or pnemonia in the newborn.
Untreated chlamydia in men can occasionally lead to epididymitis, a painful condition affecting the testicles. Untreated infections can also cause inflammation of the prostate and scarring of the urethra, which may lead to infertility.
Having a chlamydia infection also makes it more likely to get or spread HIV.
What are the symptoms?
Most people who have chlamydia have no symptoms, but the infection can still cause irreversible damage to your reproductive system. If you do have symptoms, they may appear one to three weeks after having sex with an infected partner. Symptoms may go away even if left untreated, but it does not mean that the infection has cleared.
For women, symptoms may include:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Abdominal and/or pelvic pain
For men, symptoms may include:
- Discharge from the penis
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Pain and swelling in one or both testicles
For both women and men who engage in receptive butt/anal/rectal sex, symptoms may include:
- Anal pain
- Discharge from the anus
- Bleeding from the anus
For both women and men who engage in receptive oral sex, symptoms may include:
- Sore throat
How do I get tested for chlamydia?
Ask your primary care provider for a test or visit a clinic that offers STI testing.
Depending on the kinds of sex you have, your health care provider may take a urine sample and/or swabs from your vagina, cervix, penis, rectum (butt/anus) or throat. Be honest with your provider about the kinds of sex you have, even when you’re not experiencing symptoms. An infection in your mouth or anus can be missed by only testing your urine.
How is chlamydia treated?
Antibiotics cure chlamydia. The CDC currently recommends one dose of an antibiotic pill. Sometimes, a different antibiotic is used and it must be taken twice daily for seven days. It is important to take all the pills you are given even if your symptoms go away to ensure the bacteria is completely gone.
You should not have sex for one week after you’ve taken antibiotics. If your symptoms are still present after completing treatment, it is very important to tell your health care provider.
Your sex partners will need to get treated as well. If your sex partners are not treated, you can get the infection again from them or they can infect others. Hawaii law allows you to be given medication to provide to your partner, this is called Expedited Partner Therapy [link to EPT page].
Can I get chlamydia more than once?
Once you are treated for chlamydia, you will be cured. However, you are not immune to a second infection, meaning you can be re-infected if you’re exposed to the bacteria again.
How can I avoid getting chlamydia?
If you are sexually active, using condoms consistently and correctly for vagina, oral, and anal sex will lower your chances of getting chlamydia.
You can also lower your risk by being in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is negative for chlamydia.
Have open and honest talks with your health care provider and establish a risk-reduction plan to protect your own health as well as the health of your sexual partners.