Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis – in fact, it is the most common STI in the UK. If you think you might be infected, it is important to have a test and get appropriate chlamydia treatment as soon as possible. Most GPs and sexual health clinics will recommend that you start a course of chlamydia treatment straight away without waiting for the results, and will advise you to not have sex again until you have the all-clear. This is to prevent the complications that can occur once chlamydia infection gets a hold, and to prevent the infection being passed back to your partner.

This article on chlamydia treatment is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

Who needs it?

Although many people have never heard of chlamydia, it infects one in 12 people under 25 in the UK. The general advice from sexual health clinics is that if you are under 25 and have had unprotected sex – i.e. without a condom – you are very likely to have chlamydia. It doesn’t matter if you have had several partners or just one – if your partner is infected, you are likely to need a test and prompt chlamydia treatment. Worryingly, the number of cases of chlamydia in teenagers under 16 has risen recently, with more than 2000 infections detected in 15-year olds in 2009.

Young people at risk need regular tests and chlamydia treatment, but this represents just the tip of a much larger iceberg. In total, there were around 125,000 positive tests for chlamydia in 2009, and that number has been growing year-on-year for some time.

What does chlamydia treatment involve?

Chlamydia treatment is straightforward and easy to obtain. As chlamydia is a bacterial infection, therapy involves a course of antibiotics that usually clears up the problem very quickly. Antibiotics used routinely in chlamydia treatment include:

  • Azithromycin – this is given as a single dose, which is fast acting and eliminates all chlamydia bacteria from the body within 5-7 days. This course of chlamydia treatment is useful for people who have difficulty taking medicines regularly but it is more expensive than other antibiotics.
  • Doxycycline – a cheaper chlamydia treatment that needs to be taken regularly over a period of one or two weeks; tablets must be taken at twice daily at roughly the same time each day.
  • Erythromycin, Ofloxacin and Amoxicillin are usually prescribed as chlamydia treatment in women who are pregnant. For effective chlamydia treatment, tablets should be taken regularly, as directed, until the course is finished.

It is vital that you and your partner complete your chlamydia treatment at the same time; if one of you remains infected and you start to have sex again, the other partner can easily become re-infected.

Side effects

Like all medicines, the antibiotics used in chlamydia treatment can have adverse effects. As well as causing stomach upsets and diarrhoea, the antibiotics listed can also interfere with the absorption of the contraceptive pill. Avoiding sex during chlamydia treatment is essential to avoid passing on the infection, but it is important to continue taking your contraceptive pill and then use an additional method of contraception for at least 7 days after you finish your chlamydia treatment course.

If you are prescribed Doxycycline you will also be advised to keep out of the sun – not a problem in winter so much, but if it is summer, or you are going on holiday while still taking your chlamydia treatment, exposure to sunlight can cause you to develop a skin rash.

Why is it important?

Many people who get infected by chlamydia don’t show any symptoms – so they question why it is necessary to get tested and to take antibiotics. Most people don’t want to take medications they don’t really need but when it comes to chlamydia treatment, delaying taking action can be the worst thing you can do.

Although it is true that most chlamydia infections don’t cause obvious illness, particularly in women, delaying chlamydia treatment increases your risk of developing complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease. The bacteria that cause chlamydia ‘hide’ in the cells that line the fallopian tubes and, over time, cause an inflammatory response that can block the tubes. Although most women don’t feel ill initially, the infection can lead to infertility later in life, with scarring and pain. Even if the fallopian tubes are only partially blocked, any pregnancy that does occur is more likely to implant inside the fallopian tube rather than in the uterus. Such a pregnancy is described as ectopic and can be life threatening as internal bleeding and shock can occur when the growing foetus ruptures the tube.

In men, chlamydia infection can affect the testicles, causing inflammation and pain, and can also cause male infertility. The longer the infection lasts, the more likely it is that chlamydia will have a serious impact on sexual health in both sexes.

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