Nasty Infectious Diseases You Want To Avoid - Chlamydia
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States, infecting more than 4.5 million people each year. It is a serious but easily cured disease that is 3 times more common than gonorrhea, 6 times more common than genital herpes, and 30 times more common than syphilis. Sexually active teens have high rates of chlamydia infections.
The organism that causes chlamydia (chlamydia trachomatis) is classified as a bacterium, even though it is similar to a virus. A parasite that-like a virus-can't reproduce outside living cells, it's enough like bacteria to be vulnerable to antibiotics.
Those at highest risk for contracting the disease are women under age 24, women who take birth control pills, men and women who have had more than one sex partner, and people with other STDs (especially gonorrhea).
In women, the bacteria centers on the cervix, where they cause an inflammation known as mucopurulent cervicitis, which can cause a yellow thick discharge, white blood cells, or bleeding from the cervix that a doctor can diagnosis during a pelvic exam.
Cause - A person catches chlamydia during sexual intercourse with a person infected with C. trachomatis, or a baby can contract the disease from an infected mother during birth. (The disease can be transmitted only during birth as the baby passes through the infected birth canal, not during the previous nine months of pregnancy.) The disease does not confer immunity; some studies suggest that if you have ever had chlamydia, you are more likely to be reinfected sometime in the future.
Symptoms - Most women experience no symptoms at all; but even if a woman has no symptoms, she can infect her sex partner. About 20 percent notice a heavy, yellow vaginal discharge. If chlamydia affects the urinary tract, there may be pain, burning, or a frequent urge to urinate. Many men have symptoms that are so mild they are ignored. The rest experience burning or pain during urination, or notice a watery, milky, or thick discharge from the penis. This is caused by an inflamed urethra. Some studies suggest that a person can become infected between one to two weeks after exposure. The person remains infectious until the complete course of antibiotics has been taken. Untreated infected people may be infectious for years.
Diagnosis - The most reliable test in women is a culture taken from the cervical cells. The current test (90 percent accurate) can identify antibodies in 24 hours. For men, doctors assume that any man with the above symptoms who does not have gonorrhea has chlamydia. Some doctors may try to identify white blood cells in the discharge. A man should be treated for chlamydia if his sex partner has a positive chlamydia test, whether or not he has symptoms. Tests using urine samples have also recently been developed.
Complications - Untreated women may go on to develop infected tubes (salpingitis) or an infected uterus lining (endometritis). pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can lead to a buildup of scar tissue that will block the fallopian tubes, causing infertility or tubal pregnancy. Some studies have linked chlamydia with a higher risk of premature birth or a low-birth-weight baby. About two-thirds of babies born to infected mothers go on to develop conjunctivitis within two weeks of birth, although permanent damage to the baby's eyes is rare. A treated baby is in no risk of permanent damage. About 10 to 20 percent of exposed newborns may develop chlamydia pneumonia in the first three to four months of age. While it is usually mild, some babies may be quite ill and are at risk for developing lung problems later in childhood.
Treatment - The disease can be cured by taking antibiotics for seven days (doxycycline) or a one-gram single dose of azithromycin. Pregnant women can take erythromycin for several days. Penicillin is not effective against chlamydia.
Prevention - All sexually active young women should be tested for chlamydia; many college health services and family planning clinics routinely test for chlamydia during physical exams. Between 5 to 10 percent of female college students have the disease. Anyone who is treated for any STD should also be tested for chlamydia. (In some areas of the United States, half of the patients with gonorrhea also have chlamydia.) The sex partner of anyone with chlamydia must also be treated at the same time; otherwise, reinfection will occur. Condoms reduce the risk of transmission, but they do not provide complete protection. All pregnant women should be tested for chlamydia; pregnant women with more than one sex partner or with a partner who has multiple partners should be retested in the third trimester. While many hospitals routinely put erythromycin ointment in the eyes of all newborns to guard against both chlamydia and gonorrhea infections, many babies born to infected mothers still develop chlamydia conjunctivitis.