What is chlamydia?

Originally Published: December 23, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 10, 2012
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Dear Alice,

What exactly is chlamydia? How is it transmitted? Can you get it through oral sex (man on woman)? How is it treated (especially in the case of males)?

Help!

— Need to know asap!!!

Dear Need to know asap!!!,

Chlamydia is a common, curable sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Transmission occurs when mucous membranes come in contact with the infected fluids (vaginal fluids, semen, and/or pre-cum) of an infected person. Using a latex condom (for vaginal, oral, or anal sex) or a dental dam (for oral sex) can help reduce the risk of transmission.

Chlamydia is unlikely to spread through contact with saliva and even less likely to be spread through oral sex, either active or passive, when compared to vaginal or anal intercourse. However, transmission from mouth-to-penis or penis-to-mouth is but possible. The infection is even less likely to be transmitted from vagina or anus to mouth. Furthermore, oral sex is not known to pass the bacteria from mouth to vagina or anus.

Treatment with antibiotics, especially azithromycin and doxycycline, is quite simple and effective. Both partners need to take the treatment in full, even if one has no symptoms. During this time, sex needs to be put on hold until the infection has cleared up. If chlamydia is left untreated, it can cause sterility in both men and women.

Possible symptoms of a chlamydial infection include:

  • Vaginal discharge
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Pain or swelling of the testicles/scrotum
  • Sore throat (if the infection is transmitted through oral sex and is localized in the throat)
  • No symptoms. That's right — about 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men who have chlamydia have no symptoms at all.

Getting a regular women's or men's health check-up, where they test for infections, can help detect chlamydia and other STIs that commonly show no symptoms in people who are infected.

If you are concerned that you may have chlamydia, it's important that you see a health care provider. Columbia students can make an appointment to see a health care provider at Medical Services by calling x4-2284 or logging-in through Open Communicator.

For more information, visit the American Social Health Association's STIs/STDs web page, or call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National STD and AIDS hotline at 1.800.232.4636 or 1.800.342.AIDS (-2437), available 24/7. For more detailed information about chlamydia, you can also check out the Related Q&As listed below.

Alice