What is Chlamydia?

By  Youth Projects     |    Updated: 25th April, 2017    |    6 min read

Clah-mid-ee-ah (bacteria)

Chlamydia is sometimes known as a “silent disease”. This is because people can have the disease without having any obvious Chlamydia symptoms and signs. This makes it easy for an infected person to pass Chlamydia unknowingly to their sexual partner(s).

For women, this includes infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease (P.I.D) and an increased risk of complications in pregnancy such as an ectopic pregnancy. Because of these serious long term health problems it is important to prevent this infection (by using condoms and having regular testing) and if you do become infected, you need to get treated with antibiotics straight away.

In men Chlamydia causes infection of the urethra (opening of the penis). This may spread to other tubes of the male reproductive tract and the testes. Fortunately, Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics.

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection that is common all over the world. It is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Currently, the number of Chlamydia infections is on the rise in Australia, especially among young people.

Unfortunately getting treatment does not mean you are protected from being infected again. It is also thought that getting repeated infections increases the risks of infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease, so prevention (using condoms) is better than getting treatment when you are infected.

How do you get Chlamydia?

Chlamydia is passed from person to person during oral, vaginal and anal sex and can affect all people regardless of their age or sexuality. Condom use greatly decreases the risk of getting the infection from your partner.

Chlamydia Symptoms and Signs

IMPORTANT NOTE: Most men and women with Chlamydia do not have any symptoms at all.

In men who do get chlamydia symptoms, these symptoms include:

  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Urinating more often than usual
  • Discharge from the urethra (opening of the penis)
  • Pain or swelling of the scrotum and testes
  • Rectal pain, itching, discharge or bleeding after anal sex
  • Sore throat after oral sex

In women who do get chlamydia symptoms, these symptoms include:

  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Urinating more often than usual
  • Vaginal discharge that is different from normal
  • Pain during sex
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or pelvic area
  • Rectal pain, itching, discharge or bleeding (after anal sex)
  • Sore throat after oral sex

What are the long term health problems of untreated Chlamydia?

As mentioned earlier, Chlamydia that isn’t treated can lead to serious health problems, especially if there are repeated episodes of infection.

Long term Chlamydia infection in women can lead to:

  • Infection of the lining of the uterus.
  • Infection of the fallopian tubes.
  • Increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.
  • Chronic inflammation and scarring in the pelvic region (PID).
  • Infertility as a result of infection and inflammation.

A pregnant woman with Chlamydia can pass it on to her newborn during delivery. Chlamydia in a newborn baby can cause chest or eye infections. This is due to contact with infected fluids during the birthing process. It’s important to note that males can also experience infertility as a consequence of long-term infection and scarring.

On rare occasions, people with Chlamydia can develop an illness involving their joints and their liver.

How do you prevent getting Chlamydia?

The best way to prevent yourself from getting Chlamydia is to use condoms or dams during vaginal, anal or oral sex. It’s also important to remember that when you’re young, you’re not always ready to be with one partner only and maybe more likely to have lots of short term relationships, so be sure to protect yourself.

A sexual health check every year is highly recommended for all sexually active people, especially if you’re under 25 years of age. If you are in a long term relationship, you may be less inclined to use condoms but Testing is free in clinics that bulkbill (covered by Medicare). It’s still important for you to both get checked for Chlamydia and other STIs that you may have got from previous partners without knowing it. Getting tested (and if need be treated) for any STIs at the start of a sexual relationship can help you relax and enjoy your sex life. But remember, if one or both partners have other sexual partners there is always the possibility of new infections occurring.

How do you find out if you have Chlamydia?

In women Chlamydia can be detected with a:

  • Urine sample
  • Swab from the cervix or rectum
  • Swab from the throat

If you don’t have any symptoms,the doctor or nurse will usually suggest a urine test. If you do have symptoms, a swab of the cervix is recommended.

And if you have symptoms such as pelvic pain or fever, the doctor or nurse may advise a thorough examination, including a vaginal examination as well as cervical swabs. This is to check for more serious infections and complications such as P.I.D. To take a proper swab the doctor or nurse will need to examine you internally. This usually involves using an instrument called a speculum to look inside the cervix. If you feel uncomfortable with this, you can discuss with the doctor or nurse about having a friend or partner with you for support. You can also request a male or female doctor/nurse, depending on who you are more comfortable with.

In men Chlamydia can be detected with a:

  • Urine sample
  • Urethral and / or rectal swab
  • Throat swab

If you live close to a city, Chlamydia test results generally take about 2 – 3 days to come back. This can take a little longer in country areas where samples need to be sent further away for testing. Testing is free in clinics that bulk bill (covered by Medicare).

In some cases treatment is also free, if not, with a Health Care Card you’ll only have to pay the standard prescription payment.

How do you get treated for Chlamydia?

Chlamydia can usually be treated by a single dose of antibiotics. In some clinics the doctor or nurse may give you the treatment on the spot before the test result is available.

This is usually done if there is a good chance you have been infected and there is concern that the infection may have already spread. The doctor or nurse will let you know you when it’s safe to have sex again without putting your partner at risk. As a general rule, all treatment must be completed and symptoms improved before you start having sex again.

More information

For more information on STIs and having a sexual health check-up, call FPA Healthline 1300 65 88 86, or checkout the links below for contacts in your area.

Also check the related topics:  

Types of STI’s Sex & Sexual Health

Factsheet provided by Youth Projects


Have we missed something?