Infection with chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Infection often does not cause symptoms. This means that the bacterium continues to spread unnoticed, which can cause infertility. Infections with chlamydia are easily treated and using condoms is a good way to prevent them.
At a glance
- The bacterium causing the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia is called Chlamydia trachomatis.
- The bacterium causes purulent, ulcerous inflammation on the reproductive organs.
- If the infection spreads it can cause infertility.
- Certain types of bacteria also infect the eye and can cause blindness.
- Inflammation can also occur at other sites, for example in the intestine.
- Infections with chlamydia are easily treated with antibiotics, and condoms provide protection against infection.
Note: The information in this article cannot and should not replace a medical consultation and must not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment.
What are chlamydia?
Chlamydia trachomatis is a bacterium that causes sexually transmitted diseases. There are various types of the bacteria, and they cause different conditions. The bacteria most commonly found in Germany cause purulent inflammation of the organs involved in sexual intercourse, sometimes resulting in infertility. However many of those infected do not have any symptoms. That means the disease can spread unnoticed.
Other types of Chlamydia trachomatis are more prevalent in tropical countries and cause ulcerous inflammation in or around the reproductive organs or recurring eye infections which can lead to blindness.
What are the symptoms of a chlamydia infection?
Around 80% of infections in women and 50% in men do not show any symptoms. The rest experience symptoms such as:
- itching, pain and a burning sensation when urinating and during sexual intercourse
- purulent discharge at the vagina or penis
- depending on sexual practices, also ulcerous inflammation of the rectum and the throat
If the infection spreads it can reach the abdominal cavity in women and cause abdominal pain. In men, the infection can spread to the epididymis and can also be very painful. One potential late complication in both sexes is infertility. Chronic inflammatory bowel disease may also occur.
If a pregnant woman is infected it is possible that the child may be infected at childbirth. The newborn baby may then contract purulent conjunctivitis, an infection of the middle ear and in rare cases pneumonia. Occasionally, premature births and other complications in pregnancy can also be due to infection with chlamydia.
Painful symptoms on the joints and tendons may develop after the acute stage in men and women.
Do you want to assess your risk of having chlamydia or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? WIR – Walk In Ruhr Center for Sexual Health and Medicine offers an anonymous online test for your STD risk.
How is chlamydia passed on?
Chlamydia infections are caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. This bacterium only occurs in humans and is mostly passed on through sexual contact. If the person infected is pregnant, chlamydia may be passed to the baby at birth.
If conjunctivitis occurs, the germs are often transferred by touch. That means that chlamydia can be passed on via hands as well as direct contact.
What are infectious diseases?
The video below looks at when doctors talk about an infectious disease, which pathogens trigger infectious diseases, and how they are transmitted.
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How common are infections with chlamydia?
There are approximately 89 million new cases of genital chlamydia a year worldwide – the germs that cause purulent inflammation on the reproductive organs.
How can infection with chlamydia be prevented?
Condoms can provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases involving chlamydia. Provided that they are used properly and consistently they significantly reduce the risk of infection. However even condoms do not offer 100% protection. Anyone who suspects they may have chlamydia should make an appointment with the doctor and abstain from sexual intercourse in the meantime.
The German statutory health insurance providers have included a test for chlamydia as part of their maternity services for pregnant women since 1995. This screening test should also be performed before a termination.
Since 2008 all women under 25 have been able to have a precautionary test for chlamydia. If the test is positive all sexual partners from the last 60 days should also take a test and be treated if necessary.
Men with suspected cases of chlamydia can also have a test paid for by the statutory health insurance provider.
Important: The only way to prevent the spread of the infection is to ensure everyone infected is treated, even if those infected do not have any symptoms. Even if their test is negative, doctors frequently recommend treatment of sexual partners.
What tests are used to detect chlamydia?
Doctors use various methods to detect chlamydia directly. They generally take swabs of the affected areas or samples of urine, semen or synovial fluid (joint fluid). The most reliable way is to use molecular biology-based methods to detect the genetic material of the germ such as polymerasechain reaction, or PCR for short.
How are infections with chlamydia treated?
Antibiotics can be used to treat chlamydia. It is important that those infected take the prescribed dose and complete the course of antibiotics to ensure treatment is effective. However, re-infection may occur at any time through sexual contact with infected persons.
It may be advisable to have a repeat test at least 28 days after treatment for a chlamydia infection.
What other useful information is there?
Who to contact on chlamydia infections
Liebesleben is the website of the Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA). It provides information on love, sex and protection.
WIR – Walk In Ruhr Center for Sexual Health and Medicine also provides useful information on chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases.
- Robert Koch-Institut (RKI). RKI-Ratgeber: Chlamydiosen (Teil 1): Erkrankungen durch Chlamydia trachomatis. Aufgerufen am 02.10.2020.
- Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Wissenschaftlichen Medizinischen Fachgesellschaften e.V. (AWMF). Sk2-Leitlinie: Infektionen mit Chlamydia trachomatis. AWMF-Registernummer: 059/005. 08.2016. Aufgerufen am 02.10.2020.
- White J, Ison C. Lymphogranuloma venereum: what does the clinician need to know? Clinical Medicine Journal 2008. 8: 327–330. Aufgerufen am 02.10.2020.
- Wright H, Turner A, Taylor H. Trachoma. The Lancet 2008. 371: 1945–1954. Aufgerufen am 02.10.2020.
- Holmes KK, Levine R, Weaver M. Effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted infections. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2004. 82(6): 454–461. Aufgerufen am 02.10.2020.
Reviewed by the Deutsche STI-Gesellschaft. As at: