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Chlamydia Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on November 4, 2009

Chlamydiae are a group of organisms that are not bacteria, but closely resemble bacteria. They act as parasites inside human cells, cause the destruction of the cell where they multiply, and then move on to infect more cells. There are many different types of chlamydiae, but fortunately only two are of significance to humans. Others can cause severe diseases in birds (particularly parrots), and another type is believed to be causing a decline in koala populations in Australia.

One of the forms of chlamydia that infects birds can be transmitted to humans to cause a disease known as psittacosis. The other form of chlamydia that can infect humans is responsible for an eye infection called trachoma and a rare type of pneumonia. This second type is also responsible for the better known chlamydial infections that are spread sexually and cause infections of the penis or vagina that may spread internally in women to cause (along with bacteria and other organisms) pelvic inflammatory disease. Sexually transmitted chlamydial infection can be present both in males and females without symptoms. Because of this, all sexual contacts should be treated when the infection is discovered.

Male genital chlamydial infection

There is a condition called non-specific urethritis (NSU) or non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) in which the male has a white discharge from the penis, painful passing of urine, but rarely other symptoms, and from which it was not possible to isolate the infecting organism. It is now known that many (but not all) cases of NSU are caused by a chlamydial infection.

The chlamydia can spread from the penis up into the testes or prostate gland to cause infection in these areas as well. It is spread by passing from the man to female sexual partners. In homosexuals, the infection may occur around the anus.

The chlamydia organism can now be identified by special tests, but it is not always reliable, and a negative test does not mean that the infection is not present.

Once suspected, antibiotics such as tetracyclines and erythromycins can be used to kill the organism and cure the infection.

Female genital chlamydial infection

Chlamydia can live in the vagina without causing any symptoms. The infection can be readily passed on to any male sexual contact of an infected woman. Only if the infection becomes severe enough to cause a slight discharge, or migrates internally to cause a painful infection of the Fallopian tubes or other pelvic organs, is the woman aware that she has the disease. These infections can cause damage to the Fallopian tubes that is severe enough to result in infertility. For this reason, any sexual partners of men with the infection must be treated to protect the woman's future ability to have children and to prevent them reinfecting their partner or others.

If a pregnant woman has a chlamydial infection, it can infect the baby during birth and cause a type of conjunctivitis that may become chronic and cause permanent damage to the surface of the eye. In rare cases, the baby may also catch a type of chlamydial pneumonia that may be difficult to diagnose and treat.

Lymphogranuloma venereum

This sexually transmitted disease is also caused by the chlamydia organism. Patients develop a sore on the penis or vulva, which is followed by infection of the glands in the groin. These glands soften and suppurate (drain pus) onto the skin. The infection may spread into the body to cause joint, skin, brain and eye infections. If anal intercourse has occurred, sores and pus discharging glands may form in and around the anus.

The incubation period after sexual contact with a carrier of the disease is one to three weeks. The initial sore is not painful, and may be easily missed. Even the pus discharging glands are remarkably pain free, and only if the disease spreads into the body does a fever develop. The disease is diagnosed by a special skin and blood tests.

Antibiotic treatment using tetracyclines results in a cure in the majority of cases. Surgical procedures to drain all the pus from the groin and anus may be necessary. If left untreated for weeks, it is harder to eradicate the chlamydial infection, and permanent disfiguring scarring will occur in the groin at the site of the pus discharging infected glands, and the genitals may become permanently swollen.

Please Note:

  • The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.

  • The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.

  • Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.


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