Chlamydia is a sexually-transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. Since approximately 75% of women and 50% of men have no symptoms, most people infected with chlamydia are not aware of their infections and therefore may not seek health care. Chlamydia is the most frequently reported infectious disease in the United States. Although 526,653 cases were reported in 1997, an estimated 3 million cases occur annually. Severe under-reporting is largely a result of substantial numbers of asymptomatic persons whose infections are not identified because screening is not available.
Based on reports to CDC provided by states that collect age-specific data, teenage girls have the highest rates of chlamydial infection. In these states, 15- to 19-year-old girls represent 46% of infections and 20- to 24-year-old women represent another 33%. These high percentages are consistent with high rates of other STDs among teenagers.
Chlamydia is also common among young men, who are seldom offered screening.
Some women experience a white vaginal discharge that resembles cottage cheese, a burning sensation when urinating, itching, and painful intercourse. A clear watery urethral discharge in the male probably is a chlamydia infection.
When diagnosed, chlamydia can be easily treated and cured by conventional medical means.
CDC has developed recommendations for the prevention and management of chlamydia for all providers of health care. These recommendations call for screening of all sexually active females under 20 years of age at least annually, and annual screening of women ages 20 and older with one or more risk factors for chlamydia (i.e. new or multiple sex partners and lack of barrier contraception). All women with infection of the cervix and all pregnant women should be tested.
Untreated, chlamydia can cause severe and costly reproductive and other health problems which include both short- and long-term consequences, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which is the critical link to infertility, and potentially fatal tubal pregnancy.
Chlamydia may also result in adverse outcomes of pregnancy, including neonatal conjunctivitis and pneumonia. In addition, recent research has shown that women infected with chlamydia have a 3- to 5-fold increased risk of acquiring HIV, if exposed.
Routine chlamydia screening is strongly recommended for asymptomatic women at increased risk for infection, meaning having more than one sexual partner and/or not using condoms consistently and correctly.
In a five year follow-up study, women whose blood had shown signs of infection with any type of chlamydia were about 2-1/2 times more likely to develop cervical cancer, compared with those who had not had signs of infection. Women with one particular subtype of chlamydia in their blood (serotype G) were 6 times more likely to develop cervical cancer, and several other subtypes were linked to risks 3 to 4 times that of uninfected women.
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