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Chlamydia - The Silent Epidemic

Chlamydia Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, And Prevention

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Updated June 04, 2014

Chlamydia screening smear test
Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

What is chlamydia?

A bacterium called chlamydia trachomatis causes chlamydia which is the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States today. Approximately four million new cases of this disease occur each year and up to forty percent of women infected with this disease may be unaware of its existence.

Why is chlamydia called a silent epidemic?

Many times this STD causes no symptoms and it may linger months or years before being discovered unless screening tests are routinely performed by physicians. Recommendations for screening for this disease include bi-annual screening for all sexually active women under twenty-five, as well as for older women with multiple sex partners.

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

When symptoms do appear in women with this disease they may be mild and include a yellowish vaginal discharge; painful or frequent urination; burning or itching of the vaginal area; redness, swelling, or soreness of the vulva; painful sex; and abnormal bleeding. Men who are infected may notice a discharge from the penis or pain and burning during urination.

How is chlamydia diagnosed?

Diagnosis of chlamydia is made through self-observation, medical history, and physical examination which includes taking a sample of cervical tissue with a cotton swab and sending it to a laboratory for diagnosis. Researchers are working on the development of a urine test which will make screening for this disease more accessible.

Sexual partners within the last sixty days must also be screened whenever chlamydia is diagnosed.

What is the treatment for chlamydia?

Antibiotics are used to treat chlamydia. According to the 1998 Guidelines for Sexually Transmitted Diseases from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the recommended treatment for chlamydia is either azithromycin 1 gram orally as a single dose or doxcycline 100 mg orally twice a day for seven days. Patients who require alternative treatments may be treated with erythoromycin base 500 mg orally four times a day for seven days, or erythoromycin ethylsuccinate 800 mg orally four times a day for seven days, or ofloxacin 300 mg orally twice a day for seven days.

It is vital that all medication be taken as prescribed in order to affect a cure from this disease.

What are the possible consequences if chlamydia is left untreated?

Infertility is the most common result of untreated chlamydia. Many women are diagnosed with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) years after being infected with chlamydia.

Pregnant women who are unaware of a chlamydial infection run the risk of infecting their infants during birth and are at increased risk for premature labor. Chlamydia in newborns can cause conjunctivitis (eye infection) and pneumonia. Because of this risk, screening for chlamydia is recommended for all pregnant women.

How can you prevent infection with chlamydia and other STDs?

As with all STDs, the best way to prevent them is by always using a condom unless in you are in a long-term monogamous relationship. Other suggestions for preventing vaginal infections include personal hygiene habits such as taking showers rather than baths, refraining from douching, and wearing panties with a cotton crotch.

When should you see a physician?

Anytime you notice any unusual gynecological symptoms you should see your physician. If you have symptoms that last for more than a week or unusual bleeding or swelling of the vaginal area, you should call your doctor for advice.

More About Sexually Transmitted Diseases

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