Type: Sexually transmitted bacterial infection
Fun fact: Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs in the UK, especially among under-25s. One in ten sexually active young people are thought to be carriers. People sometimes call it a ‘silent’ infection – roughly 75% of women and 50% of men with chlamydia don’t have any obvious signs or symptoms.
Common misconceptions: You don’t need to have had lots of partners to catch chlamydia! But you can’t catch it from kissing, hugging, sharing baths or towels, swimming pools, toilet seats or from sharing cups, plates or cutlery.
How it spreads: Chlamydia is caused by bacteria called chlamydia trachomatis, which lives in the semen or vaginal fluids of infected people. It gets passed from person to person via unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex, sharing sex toys, or rubbing your bits together.
Some possible symptoms:
Any unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or rectum
Pain when peeing
Heavy periods or bleeding between periods
Pelvic and lower abdominal pain
Abdominal pain in women when having vaginal sex
Bleeding during or after sex
Painful swelling of testicles (ouch)
Evil superpower: If you leave chlamydia untreated it can spread to other parts of the body, causing pain and inflammation. Women are at risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and suffering damage to the fallopian tubes. Men can get an infection in their testicles. Chlamydia can also make both men and women infertile.
Key weakness: Chlamydia is easily treatable with a course of antibiotics. The two most commonly prescribed treatments are Azithromycin, which you take once, and Doxycycline, which you take twice a day for a week.
Keeping safe: Use condoms every time you have sex – and if you’ve had unprotected sex, get tested as soon as you can. Chlamydia testing is free and you can get one at Brook services, other young people’s services, GUM or sexual health clinics or at some GP surgeries! You should avoid having sex for seven days after your treatment, to prevent you being re-infected or passing the infection on.
Being polite: Tell your current and any recent sexual partners that you are being treated for chlamydia – the UK recommendation is that you tell any sexual partners you’ve had over the last six months. The staff at sexual health clinics can help you figure out the niceties of this conversation; some may also offer to contact your current/old partners using a ‘contact slip’. This will warn them they may have been exposed to the STI and suggests they get tested, but it doesn’t mention your name.
Pop culture hero with Chlamydia: Peep Show’s Jeremy