"Chlamydia? I thought that was a women's thing?"
That was the almost unanimous response I got when I queried a sports-barful of pals about America's leading sexually transmitted disease. Yet with about 4 million cases diagnosed annually, the math is simple: Unless there are a whole lotta lesbians out there, for every woman who has chlamydia, there's a guy who gave it to her--or vice versa. Worse, up to 50 percent of men and 75 percent of women who have the infection show no symptoms in the early stages.
The bad news: Up to 50 percent of men and 75 percent of women who have the infection show no symptoms in the early stages. To make things trickier, there are actually four versions of the chlamydia bacterium. Two of the strains are rare, but the other two are more troubling.
One, Chlamydia pneumoniae, is a flulike bug that may be linked to atherosclerosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chlamydia pneumoniae causes about 10 percent of all pneumonias in this country. What's more, there is now conjecture that the bacterium lingers in the arterial walls long after the initial infection has passed, leading to plaque buildup and subsequent heart disease. Meanwhile, many people who contract this strain minimize its seriousness, in part because the bug causes flulike symptoms. Left untreated, however, the bacteria can linger to cause its potential damage. So if you suspect you have bacterial pneumonia, seek out immediate treatment.
The other troubling strain, Chlamydia trachomatis, is the STD that's quietly running rampant through society. Men can be exposed to it via the urethra or the rectum. It has also been cultured in the throats of both genders after being contracted through oral sex, and it can spread by hand to the eyes and cause conjunctivitis.
Chlamydia Symptoms in men
Symptoms in men include itching and burning upon urination, as well as a yellow discharge from the penis. But since chlamydia signs can disappear quickly, many men shrug them off as some sort of transient urinary-tract infection. Left untreated, chlamydia can lead to epididymitis, which is characterized by pain and swelling in the scrotum, and even infertility. Also linked to the bacterium are cases of proctitis, an inflammation of the rectum, and Reiter's syndrome, signaled by urethritis and reactive arthritis. At 37, David H. has had chlamydia twice. Though it wasn't a pleasant experience, he considers himself lucky in that his symptoms were readily apparent. "There was no doubt that something was wrong," David recalls. "It really hurt to pee, and the discharge was quite noticeable. Both times, I knew I needed to get tested and treated right away." Doctors swabbed his urethra for a culture, confirmed their suspicions and gave him antibiotics. "In a few days, I was all better," he says.
Paulette Thompson, an osteopath at the Pinellas County Health Department in Florida, sees patients like David nearly every day. "The good news is that chlamydia is very simple to diagnose and very easy to treat," she says. Various tests are available to detect chlamydia; the latest and least invasive is a simple urine test. Some physicians like to perform a follow-up test to rule out false positives. If funds are a problem, your local health department or free clinic will treat you at no or low cost. As with all STDs, partner notification is strongly urged, especially since chlamydia so often goes undetected. In fact, Thompson says, anyone with a multiple-partnered past would benefit from testing.
Of course, curbing your chances of getting chlamydia in the first place is your best bet. How? Using a condom is a good start; for women, a diaphragm used with spermicide may offer some protection. Be smart and careful, and you'll avoid chlamydia altogether. a good start; for women, a diaphragm used with spermicide may offer some protection. Be smart and careful, and you'll avoid chlamydia altogether.