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The Chlamydia organism is actually a bacteria-like microbe that infects the genital tract and spreads easily through sexual contact. One may not know one has Chlamydia at first because the signs and symptoms of pain and fluid discharge don’t manifest right away, if they show up at all. In other words, many people experience no signs and symptoms. In fact, a lot of women only get to know they may have had Chlamydia when they are found to be infertile because of scarred fallopian tubes.
The disease affects both men and women, and occurs in all age groups, becoming more and more common is teenagers.
Once you know you’ve got it, it is not difficult to treat. Untreated, however, Chlamydia can lead to more serious health problems.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS?
Chlamydia may be difficult to detect because early-stage infections often cause few or no symptoms to prompt you to see the doctor. When symptoms and signs do occur, they usually start one to four weeks after being exposed to Chlamydia. Even when there are signs and symptoms, they are often mild and short-lived, making them easy to overlook.
Anyway, signs and symptoms of Chlamydia may include:
• Painful urination, especially in men
• Lower abdominal pain, especially in women
• Vaginal discharge in women
• Urethral discharge from the penis in men, clear and sticky or whitish
• Painful sexual intercourse in women (dyspareunia)
• Testicular pain in men
WHAT’S THE CAUSE?
The organism, Chlamydia trachomatis, causes Chlamydia. The condition most commonly spreads by sexual intercourse and other intimate contact among genitals, the rectal area, and the mouth.
A mother may spread Chlamydia to her child during delivery, causing pneumonia or a serious eye condition.
A variety of the Chlamydia trachomatis organism causes another sexually transmitted infection called lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV). Initial signs include genital sores, followed later by fever and swollen glands in the groin area. It is found mostly in Africa, Southeast Asia, Central and South America and, not to be left out, the Caribbean.
WHEN SHOULD I CHECK THE DOC?
See the doc if you have a discharge from your vagina or penis, have pain during urination, or encounter other signs and symptoms of Chlamydia. It’s important to treat the condition before it leads to other health problems. Also, check your doctor if your sexual partner reveals that he or she has Chlamydia, even if you have no symptoms. Remember, symptoms may not occur until weeks after infection, or not at all.
ABOUT SCREENING AND DIAGNOSIS
It’s a good idea to ask your doctor how often you should test for Chlamydia if you’re at risk. You’re considered to be high-risk if you:
• Have multiple sexual partners
• Don’t use a condom during sex
• Have other sexually transmitted infections
• Have a sexual partner who has had an STI
• A culture swab. For women, doctor may take a culture swab of the discharge from the cervix. This can even be done at the same time you have your routine PAP test.
For men, a slim swab may be inserted into the end of the penis (ouch!) to get a sample from the urethra. In some cases the doctor may swab the anus to test for the presence of Chlamydia.
• A urine test. A sample of urine may also be tested for the presence of the infection.
• A blood test is another test for diagnosis of Chlamydia. This is actually the one that is mostly done here.
Yes. Among them are:
• HIV. Women infected with Chlamydia are at greater risk of acquiring HIV than are those not infected with Chlamydia.
• Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. This is a relatively common occurrence as a consequence of Chlamydia infection, one that may lead to pain during sex, infertility, and other problems.
• Epididymitis. The epididymis is a coiled tube beside each testicle that Chlamydia can inflame. Fever, as well as pain and swelling in the scrotum may result.
• Prostatisis. Chlamydia can spread to your prostate and result in pain during or after sex, fever, chills, painful urination and lower back pain.
• Rectal inflammation. Chlamydia may spread through anal sex and cause rectal pain and mucus discharge.
• Eye infections. If you touch your eye with a hand moistened with secretions containing Chlamydia, an eye infection, such as pink eye (conjunctivitis) can result. If left untreated, blindness can be the end result.
• Infections in newborns. As previously, mentioned, during delivery, a child may acquire the infection from the mother, causing pneumonia and an eye infection which can lead to blindness.
Treatment is with antibiotics, such as Zithromax (single dose), or with erythromycin, tetracycline or doxycycline. Resolution takes anywhere from one to two days to one or two weeks. Partners should also be treated so as not to create a cycle of infection.
CAN I PREVENT GETTING CHLAMYDIA?
Of course. The surest way is abstinence from sex. Short of that:
• Use condoms. There are male and female types.
• Limit your number of sex partners
• Get regular screenings for sexually transmitted infections, if you’re sexually active.
• Stop douching. This kills off the good bacteria in the vagina – yes, there are good ones – increasing the risk of infection.
Well, that’s all folks.
See you next week.
Dr. Emanuel, based in the Commonwealth of Dominica, has been an educator of medical professionals, in training and the public, for over 20 years.