How Long Does Chlamydia Last?

By Arielle Mitton
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
October 14, 2021

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.

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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.

It is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted disease (STD) (also commonly referred to as sexually transmitted infection or STI) in the U.S., with roughly 2.9 million new cases annually

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:

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
  • Fever

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.

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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? 

While some studies have looked into the potential for immunity in animals and in humans, there have been no conclusive signs of immunity.

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. 

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can access online urgent care with K Health?

Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. 

K Health’s AI-powered app is based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is chlamydia a lifelong illness?
When treated, chlamydia is fully curable. If left untreated, however, chlamydia can have serious, lifelong consequences for women. So if you are sexually active, it’s important to have regular STD tests and well-woman visits.
How do you know if chlamydia is gone?
If you take all of the antibiotics as prescribed, a chlamydial infection will likely be cured. You should notice an improvement in any discharge, pelvic pain, or pain during urination within a week or two. Bleeding between periods or heavier periods should improve by your next period. If you have pelvic pain or painful sex that doesn’t improve, see your doctor or healthcare provider, as further treatment or testing may be necessary.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Arielle Mitton

Dr. Mitton is a board certified internal medicine physician with over 6 years of experience in urgent care and additional training in geriatric medicine. She completed her trainings at Mount Sinai Hospital and UCLA. She is on the board of the Hyperemesis Research Foundation to help women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum.