Chlamydia Infection: Little to No Signs or Symptoms
Chlamydia is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. It is the number one disease notified to the CDC, with 1.6 million reported cases in 2016, and potentially more than that figure go unreported (those infected but without symptoms). When left unmanaged, Chlamydia can cause different complications which only emphasise the importance of screening and timely diagnosis. Here’s how everything works.
Cause and Symptoms of Chlamydia
Chlamydia occurs when a person is infected by the bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis. The infection is spread through sexual contact with an infected person (through oral, vaginal, and anal sex). The infection can spread from a woman to the baby during labor. It is important to mention that only sexual contact spreads chlamydia, you won’t get it from holding hands, sharing food, and other things.
Everyone can develop chlamydia, particularly sexually active people younger than 25, persons who have unprotected sex, people with multiple sex partners, men who have sex with men, and those who have already had an STD.
Although in many cases chlamydia is asymptomatic, some people may develop symptoms about 5-10 days after contracting the infection. Men and women can experience different symptoms including lower abdominal pain, painful urination, testicular pain in men, vaginal discharge in women, bleeding between periods and after sexual intercourse in women, among others.
Testing for Chlamydia
Diagnosis revolves around laboratory analysis such as:
The goal of this test is to find the bacteria that cause infection. Chlamydia culture is considered an older testing method and it is usually time-consuming (5-7 days). For this test, the doctor takes a sample of fluid from areas like rectum, urethra, eye, cervix, or throat. The sample is added to cell media that are used to grow this common infection. When chlamydia bacteria infect the cells, the result is positive but if they don’t then the result is negative.
Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests (NAAT)
The NAAT is a modern and faster diagnostic test and the most commonly performed NAAT is polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Basically, the test works by detecting the DNA of bacteria that cause this STI. Not only is it a faster way of screening for chlamydia, PCR is more sensitive, reliable and accurate. Samples are taken by urine, swab, and direct fluorescent antibodies (DFA). Of these, urine PCR test is most frequently performed. You shouldn’t urinate for at least an hour before giving a sample and it involves first-catch urine which is about 20-30ml. Results are available within one day depending on the laboratory.
The PCR test is said to be positive when chlamydia DNA is detected in the urine or specimen, which concludes presence of chlamydia infection.
Treatment and Prevention of Chlamydia
Fortunately, this particular STD is easily eradicated with a course of antibiotics. You should take the entire course prescribed even if you feel relief after a few days only. In most cases, the infection disappears within one to two weeks. Avoid having sex until your infection goes away entirely. Also, get screened for other STIs because patients with chlamydia are more likely to have other sexually transmitted diseases too. Even though at-home treatments are scarce and evidence of their efficacy is lacking, they include:
- Topical use of olive tree extract
- Intake of Echinacea tea
- Increased intake of whole beans and grain
- Cat’s claw supplement
- Sage tea
- Goldenseal douche
- Drinking a mixture of 2 drops of oregano oil and water
- Drinking a combination of turmeric and water twice a day
- Drinking lemon juice twice a day
In order to avoid symptoms and complications of this STD, you need to know how to prevent it. First, go to regular screening once a year and consult your gynaecologist, urologist, or your healthcare provider. Other preventive measures include:
- Limit number of sexual partners
- Use condoms
- Avoid douching
- Use a dental dam during oral sex
Not only will these preventive measures reduce the risk of chlamydia, but they will also protect you from complications of this infection such as pelvic inflammatory disease in women, prostatitis, reactive arthritis and others.
The most common sexually transmitted disease in the US is chlamydia and regular screening can help you detect it to treat it early before onset of symptoms and complications. The fastest, most sensitive and accurate testing method is PCR test where results can be available in up to 24 hours, unlike chlamydia culture that takes up to 7 days. Practicing safe sex is the best way to avoid STDs, and it’s helpful to be in a monogamous relationship i.e. the limit number of sexual partners.
This sound advice applies to all types of STIs, many of which are not so easily treated with a course of antibiotics (such as HIV, herpes, papilloma, etc.). When you sleep with someone without a condom, you are sleeping with everyone else they have slept with. Take cover!
If you’re interested in learning more about chlamydia and the disastrous effects it can have on your body, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!