Chlamydia is an infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. It's one of the most widespread of all sexually transmitted diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Chlamydia can be transmitted during vaginal or anal sex when one partner is infected. It can also be passed on to the eye by a hand moistened with infected secretions, and to a newborn from an infected mother during delivery. It's possible, but rare, to pass chlamydia to the throat through an act of oral sex with an infected man.
Symptoms usually show up one to three weeks after infection, if they appear at all. According to the American Social Health Association (ASHA), men are much more likely to have symptoms than women.
If a man does have symptoms, it's usually a burning sensation when urinating, especially the first time in the morning, and a discharge from the penis. The most common symptom for women is increased vaginal discharge; less common are painful urination, unusual vaginal bleeding, bleeding after sex, and lower abdominal pain.
According to ASHA, unchecked and untreated chlamydia can lead to many problems. In men, the epididymis -- the region of the male genitals where sperm mature -- can become infected. Women can get pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection of the upper genital tract that can lead to scarring of the fallopian tubes. The scarring can increase a woman's risk of ectopic pregnancy, chronic pelvic pain, and infertility.
If you're sexually active, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you get tested for chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases once a year. If you test positive for chlamydia, you can be treated very simply and quickly with oral medication. You should also let your sexual partners know so they can get treatment, too.
If you remain sexually active, here are a few simple things you can do to minimize your risk of getting chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs):
- Use a condom. Latex condoms are 99% effective in preventing STD transmission when used consistently and correctly.
- Be prepared. Keep condoms with you or at your bedside. Keep your head clear -- most people don't make wise decisions when they've been drinking or taking drugs.
- Keep the numbers down. Your chance of getting an STD goes up with each new partner.
- See a doctor. If you're sexually active, get checkups once a year. If you've had chlamydia, you may need to be tested even more often than that.