What exactly is chlamydia?
In fact, when we talk about ‘chlamydia’, most often we are talking about a specific type of chlamydia known as Chlamydia trachomatis, which is a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Different types of chlamydia – ‘chlamydia’ is actually the name for a family of organisms, each with a slightly different genetic appearance or subtype. Chlamydia A-C affects the eye, chlamydia D - K affects the genitalia and chlamydia L causes a condition known as lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV).
Where chlamydia lives:
- If you’re a man – chlamydia may infect the urethra (the tube which passes down the length of the penile shaft), the bladder, the prostate gland, and the testes
- If you’re a woman – chlamydia may infect the cervix (the neck of the womb), the endometrium (the womb lining) and the fallopian tubes and ovaries, as well as the bladder. It may also affect the peritoneum (the membrane which lines the abdominal cavity) and the liver
- Chlamydial conjunctivitis (eye chlamydia) – this occurs when chlamydia infects the eye. In third world countries, this is the most common cause of blindness. Chlamydial conjunctivitis is most common in babies – a newborn baby becomes infected during childbirth from passage through an infected birth canal. However chlamydia can cause conjunctivitis in adults too
- Chlamydia pneumoniae – this occurs most often in small babies, or in people with a poorly functioning immune system
- Chlamydial arthritis – this may develop, sometimes in conjunction with genital symptoms (urethritis in men) and eye symptoms (conjunctivitis)
- Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) – This is also a different subtype of chlamydia, which infects the genitalia to cause large painful, groin abscesses. This is very rare in the UK
How is STI chlamydia passed on? – sex. Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection. If you are diagnosed with chlamydia, this means the infection has been acquired from a sexual encounter with an infected person. Chlamydia may be transmitted by having these type of sex – oral, vaginal, or anal. STI chlamydia can be detected at any of the following sites:
- In the vagina/on the cervix
What exactly passes on chlamydia – the infection spreads mostly due to the bacteria within body fluids, for example semen, and vaginal/cervical secretions. Chlamydial organisms may be present in pre-ejaculatory fluids (precum). This means even just sexual touching, or any delay in applying a condom, could result in the infection being passed on. This means you could still become infected even if ejaculation does not occur, and even if you do use a condom properly.
How is the diagnosis of chlamydia usually made?
- If you’re a woman – by taking a vulvo-vaginal chlamydia swab. You may be asked to do this yourself. A thin, cotton tipped swab is inserted into the vagina around 2-3 cm and rotated for around 20 seconds pressing firmly on the vaginal wall. The swab is then placed into the plastic inserter and the tip is broken off for transport. This is not painful
- If you’re a man – by a first pass chlamydia urine test. You must not have passed urine for 2 hours (1 hour minimum) before providing the sample. When you do the specimen you need to provide the first part of the stream
It is possible to test women with a first pass urine test, and for a males to have a urethral swab taken. But in clinical practice, this is less common. If you attend a clinic, you will be advised about this.