This week, I’ll be sharing all sorts of yummy information about chlamydia in the exciting second installment of the STI Spotlight. The first spotlight, on herpes, can be found in the online archives under the week of November 4, 2016. Though I never get too explicit, due to the nature of this week’s column, I would recommend skipping this one if you have a tendency toward squeamishness.
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. One of the most common STIs, chlamydia affects around 3 million people in the United States each year, with young people under 25 most at risk for infection. People with vaginas are more at risk for the disease, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that up to one in ten young vagina-havers will test positive for chlamydia at some point in their lives. The infection is spread through oral, anal and vaginal sex as well as non-penetrative activities if they involve pre-ejaculate (also called pre-cum or pre-seminal fluid), semen or vaginal fluids. A pregnant person can also pass the disease onto their child during birth, particularly if the process involves vaginal delivery. Babies who contract chlamydia at birth often contract chlamydial conjunctivitis and, if left untreated, chlamydial pneumonia. Chlamydia can infect the anus, vagina, penis and urethra, but can also make its way to the cervix, throat and eyes.
The bacteria can enter the eyes through the more obvious means of “direct entry”, but can also be indirectly transported if infected body fluids get on a person’s hands and enter the eyes through rubbing or scratching. Adult inclusion conjunctivitis, also called chlamydial conjunctivitis, is one of the leading causes of blindness around the world and is especially common in locations with poor access to hygienic resources. Depending on the strain of bacteria, the eye infections can be contagious through more than just sexual activities, but also platonic personal contact like touching hands, especially if precautions aren’t taken to avoid contact with the infected eyes. Symptoms are often identical to those of other eye infections, including watery discharge, redness and itching, but chlamydial conjunctivitis will not respond to lower-potency antibiotic eye drops and thus will not respond to standard treatment. Like other manifestations of chlamydial infections, curing the conjunctivitis form requires special antibiotics, most often azithromycin or doxycycline.
With antibiotic treatment, chlamydia is completely curable and need not cause serious complications. If azithromycin is prescribed, the patient will usually only need to take one or two doses over a single day to cure the infection. For doxycycline, the more standard antibiotic regimen, two pills a day for a week, is usually required. Other antibiotics may be prescribed, but the two described above are most common. Three months after initial treatment, most medical professionals recommend another STI test to ensure the disease has indeed been successfully eradicated. A completely curable STI that usually only requires a pill or two for treatment? Amazing, you say!
Unfortunately, chlamydia often goes undetected by sufferers due to its incredibly subtle symptoms. Part of the reason it’s so common is its sneaky nature, meaning many people don’t even realize there’s anything wrong until complications occur. The most common symptoms include painful or burning urination, unusual discharge (vaginal or urethral), pain during intercourse, abdominal pain, bleeding between periods and/or swelling of the testicles.
Luckily, there’s a surefire way to remedy the paranoia that description of symptoms just caused you. Go get an STI test! Health and Wellness is a simple phone call away, and so are Family Tree Clinic and Planned Parenthood. If you have had any sort of sexual contact with another person, go get tested. It doesn’t matter if the sex happened six days ago or six months ago; knowing STI test results never hurt anyone, but ignoring one’s sexual health sure can. Family Tree Clinic offers a sliding scale for sexual health services, so no matter your financial situation, you should be able to access resources for a check-up. Even better than an STI test, safe sex! I know you’ve heard it all before, but it’s worth repeating: use condoms, use dental dams, use other barrier methods that prevent the exchange of bodily fluids during sex acts. If you choose to engage in unprotected sex, then you have a responsibility to both yourself and your sexual partner(s) to get tested regularly for STIs. If you test positive for chlamydia or any other sexually transmitted infections, it is your duty as a fully-formed adult human to tell your sexual partners to get tested themselves, no matter how embarrassed you might be.
Stay tuned for more STI spotlights and be sure to send me your questions and comments at [email protected] but remember that it won’t be anonymous.