What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs in the UK. In 2013, more than 200,000 people tested positive for chlamydia in England and the majority were under 25.
It is caused by a tiny organism called Chlamydia trachomatis, which is found in the semen (cum) and vaginal fluid of infected men and women. It is very easily cured but, if left untreated, it can cause serious reproductive and health problems.
Listen to an expert give their advice on who’s at risk, where to get tested and what the treatment involves.
What are the symptoms?
About 70% of women and 50% of men have no symptoms, they carry the infection without knowing. This is why it is important to test frequently, especially if you change partners. Those with symptoms of chlamydia may experience the following:
- White/cloudy or watery discharge from the tip of the penis
- Itchy bottom and/or discomfort
- Pain when peeing
- Burning or itchy penis
- Testicle pain
- Bleeding between periods and/or heavier periods
- Bleeding after or during sex
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
- Unusual discharge from the vagina or bottom
- Itchy bottom and/or discomfort
- Pain when peeing
Both men and women can get chlamydia in their eyes, which may lead to conjunctivitis. This commonly causes red, swollen, itchy and watery eyes, sometimes with a sticky coating on eye lashes.
How do you get it?
People usually get chlamydia by having sex without a condom (unprotected sex) or through genital-to-genital sexual contact with someone who is infected. Many people don’t realise that chlamydia can be caught through sharing sex toys that haven’t been washed or covered with a new condom each time they’re used.
It can also be passed on from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth. In this case, treatment can be given during pregnancy.
You cannot get chlamydia from kissing, hugging, sharing baths, towels, cups and cutlery, swimming pools or toilet seats.
How do you prevent it?
If you are sexually active, the best way to prevent chlamydia is to use condoms for oral, vaginal, and anal sex. If you or your partner(s) have STI symptoms or have been exposed to an STI, make sure you get tested and stop sexual contact until know you have been treated or have the all clear.
How can you get tested?
If you think that you might have chlamydia but don’t have any symptoms, we advise you wait two weeks before doing a test. This is because it can take up to two weeks for chlamydia to show up. However, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you should get tested as soon as you can.
You can get a free, confidential chlamydia test at a sexual health clinic like those run by Virgin Care, a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, most contraception clinics and GP surgeries. If you’re under 25, you can also get tested for free at young people’s services like Brook and through the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP), which offers testing in places such as pharmacies, contraception clinics and colleges.
- To find your nearest sexual health service and see if it is a Virgin Care service, put your postcode in here
- To find out where you can get a free online chlamydia test, put your postcode into the NHS location finder tool
It is possible to pay for at-home chlamydia testing kits. However the accuracy of these vary so if you do decide to use one of these tests, we advise that you speak to your local pharmacist or GP.
Testing for chlamydia is easy and pain-free. If you don’t have any symptoms, you’ll usually be asked for a urine sample if male, and a self-swab and/or urine sample if female. If you have symptoms, you’ll usually be asked for a urine sample (if male) and a nurse will take a swab from your vagina or penis. If you’ve had anal or oral sex, a swab may also be taken from your either rectum (bottom) or throat – this doesn’t usually cause any pain but you may experience slight discomfort.
If your chlamydia test comes back as positive, it is important that you tell all of your sexual partners from the last six months so that they can also get tested and treated if necessary. If you prefer, your sexual health service can support you to get in contact with these people anonymously.
Want to get tested?
What treatment is available?
Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics. Most antibiotics are safe to take with hormonal contraception like the pill, implant, injection and patch. However, you must tell your nurse or doctor if you’re taking any medications if you’re pregnant, could be pregnant, or are breastfeeding.
In urgent cases, we may treat you before getting your test results back. For example, if you’ve been contacted by a current or past sexual partner who has tested positive or is worried about being infected, or if you’re experiencing one or more of the symptoms after having unprotected sex.
It is extremely important that you don’t have sex or any sexual contact for seven days after you and your partner have finished the treatment to avoid being re-infected or passing on the infection.
- BAASH (British Association for Sexual Health and HIV) has a comprehensive patient information leaflet on chlamydia
- NHS Choices has lots of information about STIs including a specific page on chlamydia and two useful guides on penis problems and vagina problems. They also have a search tool to find out if free online chlamydia tests are offered near you
- Brook has more information and advice on STIs written for people under 25, including chlamydia