Chlamydial infections in Ireland
Chlamydial infections of the genital tract are the most common bacterial sexually transmitted diseases in the developed world. In Ireland there has been a three-fold increase in the number of new cases per year since 1993. However, chlamydial infection may be even more common than those figures suggest — in some cases, people who carry the infection may be unaware of it for some time; in other cases, confirmed cases of chlamydial infection may not be reported even though chlamydial infection is a notifiable disease.
Chlamydia control programmes in other countries have been successful in reducing the number of new cases, and there may be a need now for a similar screening programme in Ireland.
What is chlamydia?
Chlamydial genital infections are caused by chlamydia, a group of micro-organisms that cause infectious diseases. Chlamydia trachomatis is one of the main types of chlamydia and causes various types of genital, eye and lymph node infections in men and women.
In men Chlamydia trachomatis can cause non-specific urethritis (inflammation of the urethra — the tube draining the bladder), which, if untreated, may lead to infertility.
In women, Chlamydia trachomatis infection can cause non-specific genital infection. If untreated, in the long term this can lead to ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease or salpingitis (inflammation of the fallopian tubes), which may cause infertility.
How are chlamydial infections passed on?
Chlamydial infections are usually passed on during vaginal, oral or anal sexual contact with a new partner. However, chlamydia can occur in people who haven't had a new partner. This is because you may be unaware that you carry the bacteria that cause chlamydia until your partner develops signs of infection.
Infection can also be passed from mother to baby during birth, causing eye infections or pneumonia.
What are the symptoms of chlamydial infection?
There may be no symptoms for some time, but you may notice:
- Unusual vaginal discharge.
- Bleeding between periods.
- Pain when passing water.
Again, there may be no symptoms, but you may notice:
- Slight white, cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis.
- Burning or uncomfortable feeling when urinating.
What are the risk factors for chlamydial infection?
- Greater sexual activity.
- Co-infection with other STDs.
How is chlamydial infection diagnosed?
Your doctor will carry out a pelvic examination and may order laboratory tests. Samples of discharge from the urethra or cervix in women, or an early morning urine specimen from men or women, can be tested
How is chlamydial infection treated?
A course of antibiotics is used to treat chlamydial infection and is usually very successful. A one-dose antibiotic is now available. Discuss these options with your doctor. Treatment is also necessary for sexual partners to avoid re-infection.
What can I do?
- Follow the full treatment prescribed and don’t miss follow-up appointments if these are recommended by your doctor.
- Women should use sanitary pads rather than tampons while the infection is being treated.
- Tell your sexual partner(s) about the infection so that they can also be treated.
- Do not have sexual contact with anyone until tests show the infection has cleared.
- Always use condoms during intercourse.
- Ask your doctor for additional information if you are pregnant.
What is the outlook?
Antibiotics usually work quickly and are effective — be sure to take the antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor to ensure the infection doesn't return. Researchers are currently studying Chlamydia trachomatis, so there is potential for developing a vaccine in the future.
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