Chlamydia Infection & Pregnancy

Woman talking to her doctor
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Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection. It is caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis and is it curable. You get chlamydia from contact with an infected partner, either orally, anally, or vaginally. It occurs in both men and women. During the birth process, an infected mother needs to protect her baby. About 2 million people a year are infected with chlamydia according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Symptoms of Chlamydia

Typically you won't see infection symptoms for about three weeks after being exposed to the infected partner. These symptoms may start out very mild at first and continue to progress. Some people don't even have very noticeable symptoms.

This is why it is important to be tested in pregnancy. If left alone, it can continue to move inside the body. This can cause a woman to get pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This can even cause infertility or issues with the fallopian tubes if not treated. Men can also get something called epididymitis.

A doctor or other practitioner will generally do a test in the beginning of pregnancy. A urine test can be done or a swab from the discharge. It can be difficult to tell the difference between chlamydia and gonorrhea, so it is important to have these laboratory tests. If your test is positive, you will be given antibiotics to help cure the infection.

However, if your partner is not also treated, it is not uncommon to get reinfected. If you were to give birth to a baby with chlamydia, the baby would also be treated with antibiotics.

How is Chlamydial Infection Treated?

If you are infected with C. trachomatis, your doctor or other health care worker will probably give you a prescription for an antibiotic such as azithromycin (taken for one day only) or doxycycline (taken for seven days) to treat people with a chlamydial infection.

Or, you might get a prescription for another antibiotic such as erythromycin or ofloxacin.

Doctors may treat pregnant women with azithromycin or erythromycin, or sometimes, with amoxicillin. Penicillin, which doctors often use to treat some other STIs, won't cure chlamydial infections.

If you have a chlamydial infection:

  • Take all of the prescribed medicine, even after symptoms disappear.
  • If the symptoms do not disappear within one to two weeks after finishing the medicine, go to your doctor or clinic again.
  • It is very important to tell your sex partners that you have a chlamydial infection so that they can be tested and treated.

What Can Happen if the Infection is Not Treated?

In women, untreated chlamydial infections can lead to PID. In men, untreated chlamydial infections may lead to pain or swelling in the scrotal area, which is a sign of inflammation of a part of the male reproductive system located near the testicles known as the epididymis. Left untreated, these complications can prevent people from having children.

Each year up to 1 million women in the United States develop PID, a serious infection of the reproductive organs. As many as half of all cases of PID may be due to chlamydial infection, and many of these don't have symptoms.

PID can cause scarring of the fallopian tubes, which can block the tubes and prevent fertilization from taking place. Researchers estimate that 100,000 women each year become infertile because of PID.

In other cases, scarring may interfere with the passage of the fertilized egg to the uterus during pregnancy. When this happens, the egg may attach itself to the fallopian tube. This is called ectopic or tubal pregnancy. This very serious condition results in a miscarriage and can cause the death of the mother.

Can Chlamydial Infection Affect a Newborn Baby?

A baby who is exposed to C. trachomatis in the birth canal during delivery may develop an eye infection or pneumonia.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis or "pink eye," which include discharge and swollen eyelids, usually develop within the first 10 days of life.

Symptoms of pneumonia, including a cough that gets steadily worse and congestion, most often develop within three to six weeks of birth. Doctors can treat both conditions successfully with antibiotics. Because of these risks to the newborn, many doctors recommend that all pregnant women get tested for chlamydial infection.

How Can I Prevent Getting Chlamydial Infection?

You can reduce your chances of getting chlamydia or of giving it to your partner by using male latex condoms correctly every time you have sexual intercourse.

If you are infected but have no symptoms, you may pass the bacteria to your sex partners without knowing it. Therefore, many doctors recommend that anyone who has more than one sex partner, especially women under 25 years of age, be tested for chlamydial infection regularly, even if they don't have symptoms.

What Research is Going On?

Scientists are looking for better ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent chlamydial infections. NIAID-supported scientists recently completed sequencing the genome for C. trachomatis. The sequence represents an encyclopedia of information about the organism. This accomplishment will give scientists important information as they try to develop a safe and effective vaccine. Developing topical microbicides (preparations that can be inserted into the vagina to prevent infection) that are effective and easy for women to use is also a major research focus.

For More Information About Chlamydial Infection Contact:

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
National Institutes of Health
31 Center Drive, MSC 2520
Bethesda, MD 20892-2520

National Library of Medicine
8600 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20894

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30333

National STD and AIDS Hotline
1-800-227-8922 or 1-800-342-2437 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

American Social Health Association
P.O. Box 13827[br Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-9940

Reprinted from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases


Chlamydia Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last accessed: February 18, 2014