A type of bacteria too small to be seen by microscope, Chlamydia trachomatous causes sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The most common of these affect the urethra in men causing Urethritis, and the cervix of the uterus in women (and sometimes the urethra as well) [see Diagrams — Anatomy of the Urinary System and Genital Systems – Male and Female]. If it spreads, it can reach the man’s testicles (Epididymitis) or the woman’s Fallopian tubes (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease [PID]). The germ can also infect the rectum by rectal sex.
Symptoms usually take about a week to begin (Gonorrhea, a much stronger bacteria, can start in a day or two). The most common symptom of Chlamydia among men is itching and burning in the penis, especially during urination. There may be a thin discharge with pus. Epididymitis involves a painful testicle that’s tender to touch. Women may have vaginal discharge (from the cervix), and sometimes burning with urination (if the urethra is infected).
If the rectum is infected (in either men or women), there may be discharge from the anus, or uncomfortable bowel movements. A certain strain in the rectum can cause constant diarrhea, requiring 3 weeks of antibiotic treatment instead of the usual one week.. Chlamydia can also infect the eye (see Chlamydial Conjunctivitis).
However, many people with Chlamydia have no symptoms at all. They may innocently spread it to their partners. The worst complication is infertility in women, due to scarring of the Fallopian tubes [see Diagram — Anatomy of the Female Genital Systems].
Diagnosis is made by testing the part of the body that’s infected. Testing the urine works for the penis, and even for the vagina (the germ gets washed in from the outside). Rectal chlamydia requires a swab from the rectum.
It’s easy to treat Chlamydia with antibiotics. Past recommendations were a single dose, but current ones require a week (complications like ongoing diarrhea would be three weeks). It’s also crucial to treat the patient’s sex partner(s) at the same time; otherwise, they’ll keep passing the infection back & forth (the medical term for this is “ping pong”).