Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that’s easily treated and cured. It affects sexually active people of all ages and genders*, with 15-30 years old at the greatest risk of infection.
Chlamydia is one of the most commonly reported STIs in Australia. Notification rates among our population are around 380 infections per 100,000 – more than three times that of gonorrhoea, the next most common STI.
- Chlamydia is best prevented by practising safe sex.
- Symptoms vary between men and women, though most people are asymptomatic.
- A range of reliable tests for the STI are available.
- Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics.
- Chlamydia can cause pregnancy complications.
Click here for some frequently asked questions.
Dr Natalie Fonda at the World Congress for HIV and STIs in Vancouver.
How Do You Catch Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is transmissible during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Using condoms, practising safe sex and limiting the number of sexual partners dramatically reduces the chances of infection.
Mothers can also pass on chlamydia to their baby during delivery.
What Are the Symptoms?
Most women (≈70%) and men (≈50%) with chlamydia are asymptomatic – meaning no obvious symptoms are present. However, they can still infect sexual partners.
Women may notice symptoms such as:
- an unusual vaginal discharge
- bleeding between periods
- a burning or stinging sensation when urinating
- pain or bleeding during intercourse
- pelvic pain.
If left untreated, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Potential infection and scarring of the fallopian tubes may cause infertility or pregnancy complications. Ectopic pregnancies are also a real risk.
For men, typical symptoms include:
- a burning or stinging sensation when urinating
- discharge from the penis
- if left untreated, painful or swollen testicles.
Men also run the risk of infertility.
Additionally, both genders can develop complications such as reactive arthritis (aka Reiter Syndrome). This is where the urethra, joints and eyes become inflamed.
Symptoms of chlamydia contracted through anal sex may include a painful bum and anal discharge.
How Is Chlamydia Diagnosed?
Chlamydia can only be detected through tests ordered by your GP or sexual health clinic.
The best tests for women are doctor-collected cervical/vaginal swabs, self-collected vaginal swabs and urine sample tests.
Men usually have a urine sample sent for tests. Men who have sex with men (MSM) also may have rectal and/or throat (pharynx) swabs taken.
What’s the Recommended Treatment for Chlamydia?
Doctors can easily treat chlamydia with a course of antibiotics. They’ll either prescribe azithromycin or doxycycline tablets.
You should avoid sexual intercourse (even with a condom) during treatment, and for a week after you’ve finished the antibiotics. It’s also a good idea for your partner to be examined and tested during your treatment period.
If your partner is being treated for the infection, again avoid sex for a week following treatment completion.
In most cases, chlamydia is curable with this simple treatment. Symptoms should start to improve in a few days and disappear after a week or two. We recommend a follow-up test three months after treatment to confirm the all-clear.
It’s also important to tell recent sexual partners about your positive result. Known as ‘contact tracing, informing partners that they may also have chlamydia minimises their chance of developing complications.
We recommend contacting any sexual partners from the past six months.
Chlamydia and Pregnancy
GPs routinely test pregnant women for chlamydia during their first antenatal visit. Among many risks, having the STI when pregnant can cause a woman’s water to break prematurely, resulting in a pre-term birth.
Babies have been known to contract the infection during delivery. A newborn with the infection risks them developing conjunctivitis and pneumonia.
Antibiotics used to treat the chlamydia are perfectly safe to take during pregnancy.
Very common. At the last officially recording in 2015, an estimated 260,000 new cases of chlamydia were reported among 15 to 29 year olds.
The lack of symptoms in men and women heavily contributes to its prevalence in the community.
Detected cases have skyrocketed over the past 20 years. The good news is that we largely believe this surge in cases reflects an increase in awareness and testing. More testing equals more cases diagnosed.
Asymptomatic chlamydia is typically diagnosed in women in the following ways:
- During periodic cervical screening tests (which have replaced pap smears).
- Opportunistic screening while getting checked for suitability to take the contraceptive pill.
- During fertility checks.
- In the course of a pregnant woman’s first antenatal check.
- During sexual health screening visits.
In men, the only real way to detect chlamydia in the absence of symptoms is to be proactive and request a sexual health screening with your GP. Alternatively, the infection may be picked up during fertility tests.
No. Azithromycin and doxycycline tablets are Schedule 4 drugs; therefore, they need to be prescribed by your GP or specialist.
You can catch chlamydia more than once. As such, it’s a good idea to follow safe sex guidelines and have regular screening (depending on your sexual practices).
Chlamydia can come back if you don’t follow treatment guidelines and get re-infected by a sexual partner. Sexual partners must get treated with antibiotics even if all their tests come back clear.
Doing so in person or over the phone is always best. It’s usually a lot less awkward than you may think.
Melbourne Sexual Health Centre has a great website called www.letthemknow.org.au to help with contact tracing. Through this website, you can notify past partners via SMS, emails or letters. You can do this anonymously if you prefer.
Patients often have a sense of shame or ‘feeling dirty’ if they come in for a sexual health consult. Rest assured, we’ll treat you and your concerns with respect and understanding.
We’re professionals who won’t judge you or your sexual practices. We hold everything in complete confidentiality.
* We recognise and appreciate that not all patients identify with binary genders.