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Chlamydia is the most common bacterial cause of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in North America. It is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis and spread through sexual contact with an infected partner.

Many people with chlamydia have no symptoms and can therefore spread the bacteria unknowingly. When symptoms are present, they can manifest 5 to 10 days after exposure, but they can also take several weeks to appear.

In women, the following symptoms can be observed if the infection is in the genital organs or anus:

  • Whitish vaginal discharge
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Pain during sex
  • Lower abdominal or lower back pain, sometimes accompanied by fever and chills
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods or after sex
  • Rectal pain or discharge

In men, the following symptoms can be observed if the infection is in the genital organs or anus:

  • Watery or milky discharge from the penis
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Burning and itching sensation at the opening of the penis
  • Swelling or tenderness in the testicles
  • Rectal pain or discharge

The following symptoms can be observed in men and women:

  • If the infection is in the throat:
    • Sore throat
    • Cough
    • Swollen lymph nodes
    • Fever
    • If the infection is in the eyes:
      • Red eyes
      • Itchy eyes
      • Eye discharge

      Causes and triggers

      Chlamydia can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Penetration or ejaculation do not have to occur to transmit it.

      If left untreated, the infection can lead to complications. For instance, chlamydia can cause chronic lower abdominal pain or infertility in women. In men, possible complications include prostatitis and, in rare cases, infertility. Furthermore, in both men and women, untreated chlamydia can lead to joint pain or eye lesions. It also increases the risk of contracting HIV if exposed.

      Treatment

      Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics taken in a single dose or in several doses over a few days.

      If you are infected, it's important not to have sex until you have completed the treatment (in the case of single-dose treatment, you should avoid having sex for 7 full days after taking the antibiotics) and until you have no more symptoms.

      It's important to notify all partners who may have been exposed to the infection, as they should be treated. You cannot become immune to the bacteria. This means that you could contract the infection again if your partner or partners are not treated.

      It is common to contract chlamydia and gonorrhea at the same time. Both infections are treated simultaneously with antibiotics.

      The best way to prevent chlamydia and all other STIs is to use a condom and a dental dam (a square of latex or other material used for oral sex) during intercourse.

      When should I see a health care professional?

      Consult a health care professional if you experience any of the symptoms of chlamydia or any other STI. If you have been treated for chlamydia and the symptoms return quickly or do not disappear completely, you should once again consult a health care professional.

      Make sure you are regularly screened for chlamydia and other STIs if any of the following applies:

      • You have multiple sexual partners
      • You have unprotected sex
      For more information:
      Sex and U
      www.sexandu.ca/

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