Chlamydia infection (from the Greek, ??aµ?d?? meaning "cloak") is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in humans caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. The term Chlamydia infection can also refer to infection caused by any species belonging to the bacterial family Chlamydiaceae. C. trachomatis is only found in humans. Chlamydia is a major infectious cause of human genital and eye disease.
Chlamydia infection is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in people worldwide — about 2.8 million cases of chlamydia infection occur in the United States each year. It is the most common bacterial STI in humans.
C. trachomatis is naturally found living only inside human cells. Chlamydia can be transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and can be passed from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal childbirth. Many people with Chlamydia exhibit no symptoms of infection. Between half and three-quarters of all women who have chlamydia have no symptoms and do not know that they are infected. If untreated, chlamydial infections can cause serious reproductive and other health problems with both short-term and long-term consequences. Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics.
Chlamydial infection of the neck of the womb (cervicitis) is an asymptomatic sexually transmitted illness for about 50-70% of the female population. Of those who have an asymptomatic infection that is not detected by their doctor, approximately half will develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a generic term for infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and/or ovaries. PID can cause scarring inside the reproductive organs, which can later cause serious complications, including chronic pelvic pain, difficulty becoming pregnant, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, and other dangerous complications of pregnancy. Chlamydia causes 250,000 to 500,000 cases of PID every year in the United States. Women infected with chlamydia are up to five times more likely to become infected with HIV, if exposed.
Chlamydia is known as the "Silent Epidemic" because in women, it may not cause any symptoms and will linger for months or years before being discovered. Symptoms that may occur include: unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge, pain in the abdomen, painful sexual intercourse (dyspareunia), fever, painful urination or the urge to urinate more frequently than usual (urinary urgency).
In men, Chlamydia shows symptoms of infectious urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) in about 50% of cases. Symptoms that may occur include: a painful or burning sensation when urinating, an unusual discharge from the penis, swollen or tender testicles, or fever. Discharge, or the purulent exudate, is generally less viscous and lighter in color than for gonorrhea. If left untreated, it is possible for Chlamydia in men to spread to the testicles causing epididymitis, which in rare cases can cause sterility if not treated within 6 to 8 weeks. Chlamydia causes more than 250,000 cases of epididymitis in the U.S. each year. Chlamydia is also a potential cause of prostatitis in men, although the exact relevance in prostatitis is difficult to ascertain due to possible contamination from urethritis.
Eye diseasechildbirth (see below). Using the SAFE strategy (acronym for surgery for in-growing or in-turned lashes, antibiotics, facial cleanliness, and environmental improvements), the World Health Organisation aims for the global elimination of trachoma by 2020 (GET 2020 initiative).
Chlamydia may also cause reactive arthritis - the triad of arthritis, conjunctivitis and urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) - especially in young men. About 15,000 men develop reactive arthritis due to chlamydia infection each year in the U.S., and about 5,000 are permanently affected by it. It can occur in both sexes, though is more common in men.
As many as half of all infants born to mothers with chlamydia will be born with the disease. Chlamydia can affect infants by causing spontaneous abortion; premature birth; conjunctivitis, which may lead to blindness; and pneumonia. Conjunctivitis due to chlamydia typically occurs one week after birth (compare with chemical causes (within hours) or gonorrhea (2-5 days)).
Chlamydia trachomatis is also the cause of lymphogranuloma venereum, an infection of the lymph nodes and lymphatics. It usually presents with genital ulceration and swollen lymph nodes in the groin, but it may also manifest as proctitis (inflammation of the rectum), fever or swollen lymph nodes in other regions of the body.
For sexually active women who are not pregnant, screening is recommended in those under 25 and others at risk of infection. Risk factors include a history of chlamydial or other sexually transmitted infection, new or multiple sexual partners, inconsistent condom use. For pregnant women, guidelines vary: screening women with age or other risk factors is recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) (which recommends screening women under 25) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (which recommends screening women aged 25 or younger). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends screening all at risk, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend universal screening of pregnant women. The USPSTF acknowledges than in some communities there may be other risk factors for infection, such as ethnicity. Evidence-based recommendations for screening initiation, intervals and termination are currently not possible. There is no universal agreement on screening men for chlamydia.
The diagnosis of genital chlamydial infections evolved rapidly from the 1990s through 2006. Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT), such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), transcription mediated amplification (TMA), and the DNA strand displacement amplification (SDA) now are the mainstays. NAAT for chlamydia may be performed on swab specimens collected from the cervix (women) or urethra (men), on self-collected vaginal swabs, or on voided urine. Urine and self-collected swab testing facilitates the performance of screening tests in settings where genital examination is impractical. At present, the NAATs have regulatory approval only for testing urogenital specimens, although rapidly evolving research indicates that they may give reliable results on rectal specimens.
Because of improved test accuracy, ease of specimen management, convenience in specimen management, and ease of screening sexually active men and women, the NAATs have largely replaced culture, the historic gold standard for chlamydia diagnosis, and the non-amplified probe tests. The latter test is relatively insensitive, successfully detecting only 60-80% of infections in asymptomatic women, and often giving falsely positive results. Culture remains useful in selected circumstances and is currently the only assay approved for testing non-genital specimens.
Treatmentantibiotics once it is detected. Current Centers for Disease Control guidelines provide for the following treatments:
- Azithromycin 1 gram oral as a single dose, or
- Doxycycline 100 milligrams twice daily for ten days.
- Ciprofloxacin 500 milligrams twice daily for 3 days. (Although this is not an approved method of treatment.)
ß-lactams are not suitable drugs for the treatment of chlamydia. While they have the ability to halt growth of the organism (i.e. are microbistatic), these antibiotics do not eliminate the bacteria. Once treatment is stopped, the bacteria will begin to grow once more. (See below for Persistence.)
Areas of research
Recent phylogenetic studies have revealed that chlamydia shares a common ancestor with modern plants, and retains unusual plant-like traits (both genetically and physiologically). In particular, the enzyme L,L-diaminopimelate aminotransferase, which is related to lysine production in plants, is also linked with the construction of chlamydia's cell wall. The genetic encoding for the enzymes is remarkably similar in plants and chlamydia, demonstrating a close common ancestry. This unexpected discovery may help scientists develop new treatment avenues: if scientists could find a safe and effective inhibitor of L,L-diaminopimelate aminotransferase, they might have a highly effective and extremely specific new antibiotic against chlamydia.
Chlamydiae have the ability to establish long-term associations with host cells. When an infected host cell is starved for various nutrients such as amino acids (e.g. tryptophan), iron, or vitamins, this has a negative consequence for Chlamydiae since the organism is dependent on the host cell for these nutrients.
The starved chlamydiae enter a persistent growth state wherein they stop cell division and become morphologically aberrant by increasing in size. Persistent organisms remain viable as they are capable of returning to a normal growth state once conditions in the host cell improve.
There is much debate as to whether persistence has in vivo relevance. Many believe that persistent chlamydiae are the cause of chronic chlamydial diseases. Some antibiotics such as ß-lactams can also induce a persistent-like growth state, which can contribute to the chronicity of chlamydial diseases.
- Chlamydia Fact Sheet from the CDC
- STI: Chlamydia a website information for adolescents
- NetDoctor Chlamydia fact sheet
- Links to chlamydia pictures at University of Iowa
- Chlamydiae.com - Information for patients, as well as for doctors and researchers about Chlamydial infections. Note: Patient info is in multiple languages.