Chlamydia: Just because because you can’t see it…It doesn’t mean that you haven’t got it. Concerned about young adult’s sexual health, Flavour got their readers to send in questions for Doreen Donaldson, Chlamydia Screening Co-ordinator for Tower Hamlets Community Health Service to answer about the infection. Here she gives us the lowdown.
What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection. It is a bacteria that can cause fertility problems in men and women or ectopic pregnancies (a dangerous condition where a foetus forms outside the womb, often in the fallopian tubes). Up to 1 in 10 young people who are sexually active may have the infection.
Wow, I’ve not heard of this before. How do you get it?
It is passed from one person to another during unprotected sex; a condom will reduce the chance of it passing on but won’t protect 100%. You cannot catch Chlamydia through sharing towels, toilets or cups. Signs and symptoms can show up between 1 – 3 weeks, after several months or if Chlamydia spreads to other parts of the body. Most people will not have any obvious signs of infection.
I’m having sex with a new partner but I have no symptoms of an STI so I must be clear, right? I can’t have Chlamydia?
Around half of men and the majority of women (80%) with Chlamydia will have no symptoms at all, so most people won’t know if they have it or not.
How is Chlamydia diagnosed?
The only way to find out if you have Chlamydia is to take a simple test. The test looks for the DNA of the bacteria. Men usually have the test done on a sample of urine, and women through a self swab from the vagina and in some cases can also do a urine sample. There is currently a National Chlamydia Screening Programme offering free and confidential test for 16-24 year olds.
Does Chlamydia affect women and men differently?
Yes, women may notice bleeding between periods and/or heavier periods, they may experience pain during or after sex, when passing urine and an unusual discharge from the vagina. Men may get an unusual discharge, pain when passing urine or pain in the testicles.
Should I be embarrassed that I have Chlamydia? I bet my friends have never had it. How common is it?
The Chlamydia bacteria have been around for 2000 million years and infect most animal species (koala bears get it a lot!), you don’t need to have had sex with lots of people to get it either, and it is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. You would probably be surprised at how many of your friends have had it; a lot of people find it difficult to talk about sexual health problems so we often think we are the only ones with them.
Around 1 in 10 sexually active young people may have the infection, the most important thing is to look after yourself and your partners and treat sexually transmitted infections as something that can and do happen to anyone.
Where can I go to get treated and what treatment will I be given?
Treatment for Chlamydia is very easy; it usually involves a one off dose of antibiotics, but sometimes up to two weeks. You should notice an improvement in any symptoms quite quickly. Testing kits are available from Young People’s Clinics, Family Planning Clinics, Sexual Health Clinics, GP Surgeries, and Community Pharmacies and often at events for young people. You can find your local screening office at www.chlamydiascreening.nhs.uk.
Under the National Screening Programme treatment for 16-24 year olds is free and confidential and you will be offered a range of treatment venues so you can pick one that fits around you and your life. If you are over 24 you can still receive free testing and treatment from any Sexual Health Clinic.
How do I tell my partner that I have it and that he or she should go and get tested too?
It can be difficult to discuss having an infection like Chlamydia, but the infection can be present for a long time and it is often difficult to know how long it has been there. It is definitely recommended that partners are tested, but they will be offered treatment as well. The workers at Chlamydia screening centres can help you to discuss any worries or concerns about telling people and can offer to do it for you confidentially.
This sounds like a horrible infection. How can I prevent getting it?
The only way to prevent any sexually transmitted infection is not to have sex at all, but sex is a normal and healthy activity for most of us (we wouldn’t be here without it), so the sensible thing is to protect yourself by using condoms and making sure you test yourself on a regular basis. Every six months or after any change in partner is a good way of making sure you are infection free. Some people get a check up when they start a new relationship, and that can often save any awkwardness later on.
If I don’t get any treatment for Chlamydia are there any complications that can affect me?
Yes, in women it can spread from the vagina into the womb and then into the fallopian tubes leading to the ovaries, this can lead to a lot of pain, inflammation and scarring; it can also cause problems with fertility and is one of the main causes of ectopic pregnancy. In men the inflammation can spread to the balls (testicles) and some research has shown it can cause fertility problems too. Chlamydia in men can also sometimes lead to swollen joints in the feet and knees. It is difficult to say how many people will go on to develop complications, but besides pelvic inflammation and swollen joints, the infection can lead to painful swelling around the liver and eye infections.
Why are young people under 24 most likely to be infected?
About two thirds of all Chlamydia infections are in the 16-24 age groups. There are many reasons why this is the case; as some young people learn about themselves and their sexuality they may initially have more sexual partners before settling down into more permanent relationships. Some people may lack confidence and knowledge around sexual health and risk; some may find negotiating condom use difficult at first. Also, some people may use alcohol or drugs and not be as careful in protecting each other from infection.
What if I’m pregnant? Can Chlamydia cause any damage to my baby?
Yes, Chlamydia is linked to early miscarriage and premature birth; it can also be passed to the baby during delivery and lead to eye infections and/or pneumonia. You may be offered a screen in your antenatal care and if detected during pregnancy it can be treated.
What are you doing at Tower Hamlets to combat young people getting Chlamydia?
Tower Hamlets Chlamydia Screening Office is part of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme and we provide free and confidential testing and treatment. We work with schools and colleges, family planning teams, young people’s clinics, GPs, pharmacies, and community organisations such as football teams and youth clubs.
We visit events for young people to promote the importance of testing and provide advice and support and treatment of young people and their partners. We promote our service throughout the borough in lots of different ways and have recently been offering free nail treatments for women and haircuts for men as an incentive to test for Chlamydia.
We are always looking for new and interesting ways to promote good sexual health and inform people that testing is quick, easy, free and confidential – it is always better to know if you have an infection than ignore symptoms or think it won’t happen to you. We like to think we are an approachable and friendly team of professionals who work and support young people in the way they would want.
If you are worried or want further information then call the Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea Screening Office on 020 8223 8291 or logo onto www.wyps-nhs.com.