Chlamydia infection is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. It is spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected individual. The infection may also be passed from mother to baby during childbirth.
Chlamydia is known of as the "silent epidemic" since nearly 80% of women and 50% of men with the infection have no symptoms and are therefore unaware they are infected. Infected men and women can therefore unknowingly pass on the infection to their sexual partners so it is important to screen, detect and treat the infection early.
Most agencies recommend screening high risk women (those with new or multiple sexual partners and infrequent condom use) and all sexually active, non-pregnant women under 25 years of age. While some authorities recommend screening high risk pregnant women, others recommend universal screening for pregnant women.
If left untreated, Chlamydia infection can lead to serious complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can lead to infertility and pregnancy complications such as miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy (where the fetus begins to grow outside the womb, usually in the fallopian tubes).
The infection is treatable with the use of appropriate antibiotics and those currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control include one of:
- Azithromycin - 1 gram taken orally as a single dose
- Doxycycline - 100 milligrams taken twice daily orally for seven to fourteen days.
- Alternate use of tetracycline, ofloxacin or erythromycin
It is vital that all the sexual partners of an infected person are adequately treated with the prescribed antibiotics to prevent the spread and recurrence of the infection. Patients are advised to abstain from sexual intercourse for one week after completion of the treatment and after the partner is completely treated for the infection as well.
Pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers with Chlamydia infection may be safely treated with azithromycin and erythromycin.
Other less used treatment regimens include ciprofloxacin 500 milligrams twice daily for 3 days. Penicillin and cephalosporins are not suitable for the treatment of Chlamydia infections as these agents can only stop further growth of the bacteria but cannot kill them, meaning that after the antibiotic is stopped, the infection tends to return.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc