Chlamydia’s Stealthy Symptoms Make Treating It Difficult

Chlamydia’s Stealthy Symptoms Make Treating It Difficult

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection that is often undiagnosed because the bacteria causes little to no symptoms, especially in cisgender women. Still, the disease is considered to be the most widespread in the U.S.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention noted there were over 1.7 million new chlamydia cases in 2017 - 45 percent of that number involving young girls and women between the ages of 15 and 24.

New York City family physician Dr. Anita Ravi encourages doctors to start adding STI screenings as part of the yearly patient checkup to identify those who have chlamydia and get them treated. Failure to do so could lead to long-term health consequences.

Ravi said a person could have chlamydia for years and never know it. She said that’s what makes it so scary. People who are diagnosed with it and haven’t had sex in a long time have to be told they may have had it for years.

Untreated chlamydia in women can cause pelvic inflammatory disease that can then lead to fertility problems and fallopian tube scarring. For men, untreated chlamydia can lead to inflammation in the coiled tube where sperm is located in the testicle. It can also cause a foul-smelling discharge.

Chlamydia treatment involves an oral antibiotic, like azithromycin, that will clear up within two weeks of when the medication is started. People with the STI are urged not to have sex for another two weeks after finishing taking the medication.

Ravi said chlamydia hadn’t received much attention because its symptoms are so rare to be seen and experienced. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has ensured that more primary care and family medicine doctors are offering a triple screen for the disease. She said doctors are searching for chlamydia beyond the vagina, but also the anus and mouth.

That’s because chlamydia can infect many tissues it comes into contact with. According to Ravi, she’s diagnosed both anal and oral chlamydia. She said even people who have never had vaginal sex (who still think they are virgins) are being diagnosed with other types of chlamydia.

The only surefire way in which to stop the spread of chlamydia is to use condoms, but Ravi acknowledges that’s not always possible for a multitude of reasons:

  • Sex for money or housing
  • Stealthing victims (partner removes the condom without their knowledge)
  • Sexual assault
  • Infected partners who fail to disclose their status to partners.

By making it standard, it reduces the uncomfortableness that people have about STDs and ensuring that the disease is caught early on. Ravi said just mentioning it during the first visit helps to alleviate the fear of the discussion down the road.

Mark Riegel, MD

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