Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Often symptomless, and easily spread, chlamydia is one of the most common STIs worldwide and in the UK.
How common is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is the most common STI in the UK. It is especially prevalent in young people. In 2014, 206,774 people were diagnosed with chlamydia in England. Of these people, 138,000 were between the ages of 15 - 24. In 2016, 417,584 people were diagnosed with chlamydia in England. Bear in mind, these figures only cover diagnosed cases of chlamydia.
It's impossible to know exactly how many people have chlamydia. However, due to the ease with which chlamydia is spread, and the fact that it is often causes no symptoms symptomless, the actual number of people living with chlamydia is almost certainly much higher.
How do you get chlamydia?
Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria chlamydia trachomatis. It is primarily passed through unprotected sex (sex without a condom). This includes:
- unprotected vaginal sex
- unprotected anal sex
- unprotected oral sex
One of the sexual partners must already have chlamydia in order to pass on the infection. You can’t catch chlamydia without direct contact with the infection.
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
Chlamydia is notorious for its common lack of symptoms, meaning the infection can easily be caught without you realising. Around 50% of men and up to 70% of women display no symptoms of chlamydia. Therefore if you have unprotected sex with a new partner you should get an STI test regardless of how you might feel.
Common chlamydia symptoms in men include unusual discharge from the penis, a burning sensation when urinating, and occasionally swelling in the scrotum known as ‘epididymitis’.
Common chlamydia symptoms in women include abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods and a burning sensation when urinating. A chlamydia infection can also lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID causes stomach pain, vaginal discharge, fever and can affect fertility if left untreated.
Chlamydia tests are easily accessible and very simple to take. Testing for chlamydia in men requires a urine sample. Testing for chlamydia in women requires a vaginal swab.Our online doctor provides urine tests for men and swab tests for women that can be taken at home. If you test positive for chlamydia you will receive free treatment, provided you are medically suitable.
A single dose of antibiotics should be sufficient. Chlamydia is treated with antibiotic tablets. There are two treatment options – a one off dose or a seven day course. If you are diagnosed, a clinician will help you decide on the safest and most effective treatment for you.
Your current and any previous sexual partners should also be treated for chlamydia.
How to prevent chlamydia
The easiest way to prevent chlamydia is using a condom during sex. This is especially important if you have multiple sexual partners as condoms also prevent other STIs, including HIV, and also if applicable, avoid unplanned pregnancies.
If you have a regular sexual partner, make sure you and your partner have been tested for chlamydia and other STIs before you stop using a condom.
What does 'chlamydia' mean?
Chlamydia is named after the Greek word chlamys meaning "cloak draped around the shoulder". The name refers to how the intracytoplasmic inclusions caused by the bacteria are ‘draped’ around the nucleus of infected cells. Chlamydia was originally thought to be a virus but research in the 1960s showed it to be a bacteria. Chlamydia wasn’t classified as an STI until 1976.
Can you catch chlamydia by sharing sex toys?
Yes, chlamydia can be passed on by sharing sex toys, like many other STIs. You can minimise this risk by covering sex toys with a new condom each time they are used.