Many of us will encounter chlamydia in our time. Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK and has a high frequency of transmission, with up to 75% concordance rate in partners of people with the infection. This means that most people with a partner who has chlamydia will also pick up the infection.
As STIs go, chlamydia is pretty ubiquitous. But how do you know if you have chlamydia? And at what point after contracting chlamydia do you become infectious to other people?
As with many areas of sexual health, there’s a lot of misinformation and confusion to wade through before we can understand what we really need to know about chlamydia. So read on for a crash course in this common condition.
What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is an STI caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis, which likes to live in warm, wet bodily environments, like the genitals!
What is an incubation period?
The incubation period refers to the time between exposure to an infection and when any symptoms of that infection start to appear. In the context of STIs, the incubation period is the time between sexual risk (e.g. unprotected intercourse) and developing your first STI symptom.
What is chlamydia's incubation period?
So, how long can you have chlamydia without knowing? The incubation period (the time it takes to develop any symptoms) is typically around 7-21 days for chlamydia. However, this can vary depending on various factors, such as the person’s immune system and the severity of the infection. And remember, in many cases, chlamydia doesn’t produce noticeable symptoms!
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
So following exposure, how long does it take chlamydia to show up? But herein lies part of the answer as to why chlamydia is so common: chlamydia often doesn’t exactly “show up”.
Most people who have chlamydia don’t experience any symptoms at all. In fact, around 70% of women and 50% of men with chlamydia are completely asymptomatic.
That’s why chlamydia is known as a ‘silent’ infection. Not everyone with chlamydia will experience symptoms, so a person may not even know when they have the infection.
- Painful urination
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pain during sex
- Pelvic pain
- Testicular pain
- Bleeding between periods
- Rectal pain, discharge or bleeding (if contracted through anal sex)
Symptoms of chlamydia generally develop around 1 to 3 weeks, but it can be much longer for some people before they manifest symptoms. But, of course, this is if symptoms develop at all, which will not happen for most people.
Can you still pass on chlamydia during the incubation period?
Here’s where things might feel confusing. If you don’t have any symptoms, you might be tempted to think you’re not in danger of passing chlamydia on to a partner. But, unfortunately, this isn’t the case. After exposure to an STI, the bacteria that cause chlamydia are present in your body and can easily be transmitted to your partner through sexual contact. STIs can be spread in several ways – you can learn more here.
What is the window period for chlamydia?
If you’re concerned that you’ve potentially been exposed to an STI, you might be wondering when you should get tested. The answer depends on the “window period” for that particular STI.
So, if you think you might have been exposed to chlamydia, it’s important to wait at least two weeks before getting tested. This will give the bacteria enough time to multiply and show up on a test.
Remember, if there is a potential risk that you have been exposed to chlamydia, whether you have symptoms or not, the best thing you can do for your health is to take an STI test. But you’ll want to bear in mind this window period – as testing too early might mean the infection does not show up on a test.
I think I have chlamydia - what do I do?
The bottom line is, if you have chlamydia, you are at risk of spreading it to sexual partners – even during the incubation period and even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms.
If you suspect you have chlamydia:
- Test yourself. If you suspect you might have been exposed to chlamydia, wait at least two weeks before getting tested for an accurate result.
- Seek advice from your GP if you have a positive result. A course of antibiotics will cure most cases of chlamydia, and you can get information on testing and treating sexual partners.
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Symptomless STIs can be a scary concept, but to protect yourself in future, you can:
- Use condoms – condoms are the only contraception that protects against STIs and pregnancy.
- Get tested regularly – this is good practice if you’re sexually active and there is any risk you could have contracted chlamydia or any other STI.
- Find out more about how you can reduce your risk of STIs in future.
Remember, chlamydia can be a serious infection that can lead to health complications if left untreated. Fortunately, being proactive about our sexual health and regularly testing for STIs means any chlamydia infection is picked up early. With prompt treatment, chlamydia-associated health issues are much less likely, and we can get on with our sex lives with minimal drama.