If you believe you’ve been exposed to chlamydia, even if you don’t have any symptoms, the first thing you should do is get tested. And if your chlamydia test is positive, be confident that you are doing the right thing.
Being tested means that you can be treated, and the proper treatment will help clear up a chlamydial infection in a matter of weeks.
On the other hand, if you don’t get tested or don’t see a healthcare provider for treatment, chlamydia can live in the body for weeks, months, or even years without being detected.
This can lead to long-term complications, including infertility.
Read on to learn what chlamydia is, how it spreads, the symptoms, and when symptoms typically show.
I’ll also explain how long chlamydia lasts, what happens if it goes untreated, how long you have to wait to have sex after an infection, and if you can become immune to chlamydia.
What Is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia, also called chalmydia trachomatis, is a bacterial infection that can affect the reproductive organs, throat, and eyes of sexually active people.
People infected with chlamydia often don’t experience any symptoms, so it frequently goes untreated.
The good news is, chlamydia can be detected with an STD test and successfully treated with antibiotics like azithromycin or doxycycline.
How Is Chlamydia Spread?
Chlamydia most commonly spreads through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner.
It can also spread from an infected pregnant woman to her baby during childbirth, and it can infect the eyes if fluids containing chlamydia trachomatis get in them. (Typically this occurs when touching the eyes with unclean hands.)
If someone has chlamydia and is sexually active before finishing their full treatment (often a course of antibiotics), they can still spread chlamydia.
And anyone who has had chlamydia and successfully treated it can get infected again.
The only sure way to prevent chlamydia is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Using barrier protection (such as condoms) during sexual intercourse can decrease the risk.
Symptoms of Chlamydia
Chlamydia is considered a “silent” infection because a large majority of people infected with it do not experience any symptoms.
\If symptoms do occur, they may begin weeks after the initial exposure.
Symptoms of chlamydia vary based on where the infection is located.
Symptoms in the vulva
When a person with a vulva experiences chlamydia symptoms, they may notice one or several of the following:
- Vaginal discharge
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Pain during sex
- Abdominal pain
Symptoms in the penis
For people with a penis, chlamydia symptoms often include:
- Discharge from the penis
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Testicular pain, tenderness, and swelling
Symptoms in the throat
Chlamydia in the throat is typically caused by having oral sex with someone who has contracted the infection. In this case, symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Pain the mouth
- Redness in the mouth or throat
- Mouth sores
- Sores around the lips
Symptoms in the rectum
Receiving anal sex from an infected sex partner can lead to chlamydia of the anus. Chlamydia may also spread from the vulva to the rectum. In either case, rectal chlamydia can result in symptoms such as:
- Rectal pain
- Rectal discharge
- Rectal bleeding
How Quickly Do Symptoms Show?
In many cases, chlamydia symptoms do not show up at all, making it possible for the infection to lie dormant in the body and cause long-term side effects when not treated.
If someone with chlamydia does experience symptoms, the time it takes for them to show up may vary.
For most people, though, it takes about 7-21 days after having unprotected sex with an infected partner. However, it can take longer.
How Long Does Chlamydia Last?
Once treated, a chlamydial infection can clear up in about a week with the proper antibiotics.
To avoid spreading chlamydia, it’s important to avoid having sex until your treatment is complete (follow your doctor’s directions) and the infection is cured.
What Happens If Chlamydia Goes Untreated?
If left untreated, chlamydia can live in the body and lead to a variety of complications. Some of the most common and serious include:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): This can permanently damage the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and uterus.
- Infections in newborns: Pregnant women can pass chlamydia to their baby, who may develop an eye infection or pneumonia.
- Epididymis: This inflammation near the testicles causes pain and swelling that, if left untreated, could affect fertility.
- Sexually acquired reactive arthritis (SARA): This condition causes the joints, eyes, or urethra to become inflamed and is more common in men.
How Long After Treatment Can I Have Sex Again?
You should avoid being sexually active during treatment for chlamydia because you can still pass the infection to your sex partner(s) during this time, even if you have no symptoms.
How long you should wait to have sex depends on the antibiotic you take.
If your doctor prescribes a single dose of antibiotics, wait until seven days after taking it. If you take a multi-dose antibiotic, wait until you’ve taken the full course of medication (typically seven days).
Because it is somewhat common to get a repeat infection of chlamydia, it’s a good idea to be tested for it again about three months after treatment.
Do Past Infections Mean I’m Immune?
At this point, it seems you cannot become immune to chlamydia after having it. To avoid future infections, it’s important to practice safe sex and get tested regularly—especially if you are sexually active with multiple partners.
Frequently Asked Questions
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Chlamydia – CDC Fact Sheet. (2014). https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm
Chlamydia Infections. (2021). https://medlineplus.gov/chlamydiainfections.html
Chlamydia Statistics. (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stats.htm
Does Infection with Chlamydia Trachomatis Induce Long-Lasting Partial Immunity? Insights from Mathematical Modelling. (2019). https://sti.bmj.com/content/95/2/115
Protective Immunity to Chlamydia trachomatis Genital Infection: Evidence from Human Studies. (2010). ttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990949/