Health conditions

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in Australia, particularly among young people aged between 15 and 25 years. It is caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria and can be serious for both men and women.

Video – How to get tested for chlamydia

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Read the video transcript How to get tested for chlamydia.

How do you get chlamydia?

Sexually transmitted infection (STI) – any infection or disease that can be passed from one person to another during sexual activity.

Chlamydia is passed on by unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex with an infected person. Pregnant women can pass chlamydia on to their babies, causing serious eye and lung infections. If you have chlamydia, it’s also easier to both catch and pass on HIV.

The trouble is, most people don’t realise they have chlamydia because they don’t see or feel anything wrong. Without knowing it, they can pass it on to their partners.

Who is most at risk?

You are most at risk of chlamydia if:

  • you’re under 25
  • you’ve changed sex partners in the last 12 months
  • you’ve had more than one sex partner in the last 12 months
  • you don’t use condoms or dental dams
  • you or your sex partner has another STI.
What are the signs and symptoms?

Most girls and women who have chlamydia don’t notice any signs at all. Others have symptoms including:

  • burning or pain when urinating
  • unusual discharge from the vagina
  • pain in the lower belly
  • pain during sex
  • unusual bleeding, or spotting between periods.

Most boys and men who have chlamydia don’t notice any signs at all. Others have symptoms including:

  • whitish or yellow discharge from the penis
  • burning or pain when urinating
  • irritation or soreness around the urethra (the opening of the penis).
How do I know I have chlamydia?

If you have any of these symptoms – or if you are having sex with several people and don’t know if they have an infection – visit a doctor as soon as possible and ask for an STI check-up. It’s simple.

Your doctor will test a sample of urine. Women also need a swab taken from the vagina (which you can do yourself if you prefer). It’s a good idea to have tests for other STIs at the same time.

Your doctor should also talk to you about contact tracing. Contact tracing involves finding and informing the contacts of a person with an infection so they can get counselling and testing, and treatment if necessary. You can do the contact tracing yourself and/or with help of a health professional. Discuss this with your doctor.

How is chlamydia treated?

If you have chlamydia you will be given antibiotics. You need to take them all. Your sex partners also need to get tested and treated.

Don’t have unsafe sex while you or your partner are taking the treatment – you could infect each other again.

Do not drink alcohol during treatment. The alcohol stops the medicine from working properly, and you might also forget about having safe sex.

If left untreated

Without early treatment, women and girls can get infections in their cervix, uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes. This is called pelvic inflammatory disease and it can cause infertility. This can scar or even block the fallopian tubes (which carry eggs to the womb). It can also prevent a fertilised egg from getting into the uterus, causing an ectopic pregnancy (when the egg grows in the fallopian tube) which requires emergency surgery and can result in death.

Without early treatment, men can develop prostatitis (infection and swelling of the prostate gland), epididymitis (swelling in the testicles) and infertility (so you can’t have a baby).

How can chlamydia be prevented?

You can reduce the risks of getting chlamydia, and other STIs, by following this advice:

  • Always use condoms or dams and water-based lubricant. Condoms are the best way to protect you both from chlamydia and other STIs. Always use condoms during vaginal and anal sex, and dams during oral sex, until you’re totally sure that both you and your partner don’t have an STI.
  • Have a long-term relationship where neither of you is already infected, and neither of you has other partners.
  • Limit your sex partners. The fewer people you have sex with, the less chance you have of having sex with someone who has chlamydia.
  • Have regular STI checks.

Talking about STIs can be difficult, but any person you have sex with has a right to know if you have an infection. Discuss it when you’re feeling relaxed and confident, not just before you have sex. Your partner will appreciate your honesty and that you don’t want to infect him/her. You have the right to know if they’re infected, too.

Where to get help

Remember

  • Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in Australia.
  • You can reduce the risks of getting chlamydia by practising safe sex, and limiting your sex partners.

Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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