Chlamydia: The Silent Infection

Only 60% of high school students know that chlamydia affects everyone: males, females and those who don’t fit into the gender binary. The glaring inadequacy of high school sex education and health is probably a reason why 81% of reported chlamydia cases are in the 15-24 year old age group and 1 in 20 Australians have chlamydia. Like Conchita Wurst, the incidence of chlamydia rose like a phoenix by 10% from 2013 to 2014 in NSW…and that’s just humans! Koalas have a serious problem, i.e. extinction due to a similar strain of chlamydia that leaves infertile about 50% of the female koalas it infects among a population of just 80,000 in the wild.

While koala sex is reportedly quite loud, chlamydia is the “silent infection” because most people don’t realise that they have it and it is largely asymptomatic. In fact, the word chlamydia comes from the word Greek word for cloak, chlamys. So chlamydia is like Harry Potter wearing an invisibility cloak; just because it looks like there’s nothing there, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t.

So what exactly is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the chlamydia trachomatis bacterium that anyone who is sexually active can contract. It can be transmitted through all forms of sex; oral, vaginal and anal and doesn’t necessarily need the sharing of bodily fluids (ejaculate, etc.). Unlike chickenpox, a person previously treated for chlamydia can still get infected again.

As I mentioned earlier, chlamydia doesn’t have any symptoms in most people but there are a few definite red flags that involve urine, genital discharge and bleeding. In both males and females, unusual discharge from the penis or the vagina may occur in addition to discomfort when urinating akin to a burning feeling. Chlamydia may also cause rectal pain, discharge or bleeding. Males may experience swollen and sore testes whilst females may experience bleeding or spotting between periods or after sex in addition to lower abdominal pain. If you have any of these symptoms, it may not be chlamydia but you should still go see the doctor.

The greatest and most obvious risk factor for contracting chlamydia and other STIs is having unprotected sex. So people, please use protection, like condoms (male and/or female ones) and dental dams. Take responsibility for your own health and insist on using protection because most people unknowingly have chlamydia, kind of like Harry not knowing he was a harbouring a piece of Voldemort’s soul. You have a duty to yourself and your partner(s), especially because of some of the consequences later in life.

In both females and males, chlamydia can cause serious and sometimes permanent damage to reproductive systems by creating long-term infection. While a person’s worth should not be tied to having children, I believe that having that choice to do so is important. In females, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can develop and cause chronic pelvic pain and fertility issues such as ectopic pregnancies and difficulty conceiving. Chlamydia is also an issue to people seeking IVF later in life. Once pregnant, issues can still occur because a female can pass chlamydia to a baby, potentially causing early delivery as well as lung or eye infections. In men, can lead to longer-term testicular infection and fertility problems, but actual sterility is rare. Reactive arthritis may also occur but is more common in males than in females.

Given the health problems that can occur and the sneaky nature of this cloaked bacterium, regular testing is of the utmost importance. An annual chlamydia check-up is highly recommended but changes in circumstances such as new sexual partners would increase the amount of testing. The test itself is very simple. It can be done through a swab, vaginal, cervical, anal or penile, or a urine test. You can visit the Canberra Sexual Health Centre located in Building 5 at the Canberra Hospital for free testing. They do daily walk-ins 9am-2pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and Wednesdays from 1.30pm to 3.30pm. You can also book an appointment by calling 6244 2184.

If you do have chlamydia, it is very easily treated with antibiotics. However, it’s important to avoid sex until the full course of treatment has been completed and for at least a week following. It’s recommended to get re-tested three months after treatment.
Finally, it is your responsibility to inform all sexual partners from at least the past six months if you do have chlamydia so that they themselves can get tested and treated if needed.

While this didn’t have as many dick jokes and double entendres as I expected, I hope that you all gained something from reading this: keep safe, get tested and have fun!
Because unlike the koalas, our species has an over-population issue.