What is Chlamydial Infection?
Chlamydial ("kla-MID-ee-uhl") infection is a curable sexually
(STD), which is caused by a bacterium called
. You can get genital chlamydial infection
during oral, vaginal, or anal sexual contact with an infected
partner. It can cause serious problems in men and women as well as in
newborn babies of infected mothers.
Chlamydial infection is one of the most widespread bacterial STDs
in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 1.3 million people are
infected each year. Health economists estimate that chlamydial
infections and the other problems they cause cost Americans more than
$2 billion a year.
What Are the Symptoms of This STD?
Because chlamydial infection does not make most people sick, you
can have it and not know it. Those who do have symptoms may have an
abnormal discharge (mucus or pus) from the vagina or penis or pain
while urinating. These early symptoms may be very mild. Symptoms
usually appear within one to three weeks after being infected.
Because the symptoms may be mild or not exist at all, you might not
seek care and get treated.
The infection may move inside the body if it is not treated.
There, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women and
epidydimitis in men, two very serious illnesses.
C. trachomatis can cause inflamed rectum and inflammation of the
lining of the eye ("pink eye"). The bacteria also can infect the
throat from oral sexual contact with an infected partner.
How Does the Doctor Diagnose Chlamydial Infection?
Chlamydial infection is easily confused with gonorrhea because the
symptoms of both diseases are similar and the diseases can occur
together, though rarely.
The most reliable ways to find out whether the infection is
chlamydial are through laboratory tests. Usually, a doctor or other
health care worker will send a sample of pus from the vagina or penis
to a laboratory that will look for the bacteria.
The urine test does not require a pelvic exam or swabbing of the
penis. Results from the urine test are available within 24 hours.
How is Chlamydial Infection Treated?
If you are infected with C. trachomatis
, your doctor or other
health care worker will probably give you a prescription for an
antibiotic such as azithromycin (taken for one day only) or
doxycycline (taken for seven days) to treat people with chlamydial
infection. Or, you might get a prescription for another antibiotic
such as erythromycin or ofloxacin.
Doctors may treat pregnant women with azithromycin or
erythromycin, or sometimes, with amoxicillin. Penicillin, which
doctors often use to treat some other STDs, won't cure chlamydial
If you have chlamydial infection:
- Take all of the prescribed medicine, even after symptoms
- If the symptoms do not disappear within one to two weeks after
finishing the medicine, go to your doctor or clinic again.
- It is very important to tell your sex partners that you have
chlamydial infection so that they can be tested and treated.
What Can Happen if the Infection is Not Treated?
In women, untreated chlamydial infections can lead to PID. In men,
untreated chlamydial infections may lead to pain or swelling in the
scrotal area, which is a sign of inflammation of a part of the male
reproductive system located near the testicles known as the
epididymis. Left untreated, these complications can prevent people
from having children.
Each year up to 1 million women in the United States develop PID,
a serious infection of the reproductive organs. As many as half of
all cases of PID may be due to chlamydial infection, and many of
these don't have symptoms. PID can cause scarring of the fallopian
tubes, which can block the tubes and prevent fertilization from
taking place. Researchers estimate that 100,000 women each year
become infertile because of PID.
In other cases, scarring may interfere with the passage of the
fertilized egg to the uterus during pregnancy. When this happens, the
egg may attach itself to the fallopian tube. This is called ectopic
or tubal pregnancy. This very serious condition results in a
miscarriage and can cause death of the mother.
Can Chlamydial Infection Affect a Newborn Baby?
A baby who is exposed to C. trachomatis in the birth canal during
delivery may develop an eye infection or pneumonia. Symptoms of
conjunctivitis or "pink eye," which include discharge and swollen
eyelids, usually develop within the first 10 days of life.
Symptoms of pneumonia, including a cough that gets steadily worse
and congestion, most often develop within three to six weeks of
birth. Doctors can treat both conditions successfully with
antibiotics. Because of these risks to the newborn, many doctors
recommend that all pregnant women get tested for chlamydial
Note: All information is based upon materials published by the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAD) and the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control.