Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK.
It's passed on from one person to another through unprotected sex (sex without a condom) and is particularly common in sexually active teenagers and young adults.
In 2013, more than 200,000 people tested positive for chlamydia in England. Almost 7 in every 10 people diagnosed with the condition were under 25 years old.
Symptoms of chlamydia
Most people with chlamydia don't notice any symptoms and don't know they have it.
If you do develop symptoms, you may experience:
- unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or rectum (back passage)
- in women, pain in the tummy, bleeding during or after sex, and bleeding between periods
- in men, pain and swelling in the testicles
If you think you're at risk of having an STI or have any symptoms of chlamydia, visit your GP practice, community contraceptive service or local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic to get tested.
How do you get chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection. The bacteria are usually spread through sex or contact with infected genital fluids (semen or vaginal fluid).
You can get chlamydia through:
- unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex
- sharing sex toys that aren't washed or covered with a new condom each time they're used
- your genitals coming into contact with your partner's genitals – this means you can get chlamydia from someone even if there is no penetration, orgasm or ejaculation
- infected semen or vaginal fluid getting into your eye
It can also be passed by a pregnant woman to her baby – read about the complications of chlamydia for more information about this.
Chlamydia can't be passed on through casual contact, such as kissing and hugging, or from sharing baths, towels, swimming pools, toilet seats or cutlery.
Is chlamydia serious?
Although chlamydia doesn't usually cause any symptoms and can normally be treated with a short course of antibiotics, it can be serious if it's not treated early on.
If left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of your body and lead to long-term health problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), epididymo-orchitis (inflammation of the testicles), and infertility. It can also sometimes cause reactive arthritis.
This is why it's important to get tested and treated as soon as possible if you think you might have chlamydia.
How chlamydia is treated
Chlamydia can usually be treated easily with antibiotics. You may be given some tablets to take all on one day, or a longer course of capsules to take for a week.
You shouldn't have sex until you and your current sexual partner have finished your treatment. If you had the one-day course of treatment, you should avoid having sex for a week afterwards.
It's important that your current sexual partner and any other sexual partners you've had during the last six months are also tested and treated to help stop the spread of the infection.
Sexual health or GUM clinics can help you contact your sexual partners. Either you or the clinic can speak to them, or they can be sent a note advising them to get tested. The note won't have your name on it, so your confidentiality will be protected.
Anyone who is sexually active can catch chlamydia. You're most at risk if you have a new sexual partner or don't use a barrier method of contraception, such as a condom, when having sex.
You can help to prevent the spread of chlamydia by:
- using a condom every time you have vaginal or anal sex
- using a condom to cover the penis during oral sex
- using a dam (a piece of thin, soft plastic or latex) to cover the female genitals during oral sex or when rubbing female genitals together
If you do share sex toys, wash them or cover them with a new condom between each person who uses them.
Getting tested for chlamydia
Testing for chlamydia is done with a urine test for males and a self swab test for females. You don't need a physical examination by a nurse or doctor.
Anyone can get a free and confidential chlamydia test at your GP surgery, pop in to the surgery at any time and pick up a testing pack which will give you full instructions on how to carry out the test, it is quick, easy and painless.