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Chlamydia

Symptoms and treatment

Caused by the bacterium chlamydia trachomatis, chlamydia is the most-reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease (STD) in America. Despite this statistic, chlamydia is referred to as a "silent" STD, since, due to a lack of symptoms, three-quarters of women and one-half of men who are infected are not aware they have it. Unfortunately, it is these mild or absent symptoms that allows chlamydia to silently damage a woman's reproductive system. Since the damage is irreversible and can lead to infertility, every sexually active person should be aware of the subtle symptoms of this destructive STD.

Symptoms

Initially, the bacterium infects the cervix and urethra in women. Once infected, women who develop symptoms might experience abnormal vaginal discharge or a burning sensation when urinating. At this point, if the infection is not identified and treated, it will eventually spread to the fallopian tubes and uterus. If the woman is symptomatic at this stage of the infection, she can experience lower back and abdominal pain, fever, nausea, pain during intercourse and bleeding between menstrual periods.

Once the infection has spread to the uterus or fallopian tubes, 40 percent of all women with chlamydia will develop a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). It is the PID that causes the permanent damage of infertility, as well as an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain.

Since chlamydia can be transferred during vaginal, anal or oral sex, anyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting this infection. The more sexual partners the person has, the greater the risk of infection. Once a woman has been diagnosed with chlamydia, all of her sexual partners should also be tested and treated. If the sexual partners have not been treated, the woman places herself at high risk for future infections. Because of this risk, it is recommended that women be retested three months after the initial treatment.

The only symptoms a man might have are a discharge from their penis or a burning sensation when urinating. Further complications are rare in men.

Treatment

Although chlamydia is easily treated and cured with antibiotics, due to the "silent" symptoms and serious consequences of an infection left unchecked, an annual screening is recommended for all sexually active women – especially those with multiple partners. Since there is some evidence that chlamydia causes premature births and that this infection can be passed to a baby during a vaginal delivery, a chlamydia screening is now routine for all pregnant women.

The only way to prevent a STD such as chlamydia is by abstaining from sex altogether or by engaging in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. If that is not possible, condom use, which can reduce the risk of infection, is your next line of defense. If you are at high risk for infection, watch for the subtle signs of chlamydia so treatment can begin before this STD causes permanent damage.

Further information can be found through the Division of STD Prevention (DSTDP) at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/std

By Kate Kennedy

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