Sex Ed: Chlamydia: Just the facts
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in Nunavut and Nunavik (and indeed in all of Canada).
In the hospital and health centers we see it way too much. Sexually active people between 15 and 30 get the greatest number of infections and chlamydia is diagnosed about four times more often in women than in men. This is because women are more easily infected and may also go to get checked more frequently.
Chlamydia is an infection that should be taken very seriously. In women, it can cause severe infections in the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes — the whole baby making apparatus!
This can lead to scarring and problems trying to get pregnant later on. The risk of having a tubal pregnancy is also increased in girls and women who have had chlamydia.
Babies born to infected women can have dangerous eye, ear or lung infections. In men, the infection can spread to the testicles and disrupt the sperm-making department so that they may also have trouble trying to have children later on.
Chlamydia is caused by nasty little bacteria and can spread from one person to another by vaginal, oral or rectal sex. Symptoms of chlamydia can take two to six weeks to develop and many people carry the infection without even knowing it.
Women may find that they have pain or bleeding during intercourse, more vaginal discharge than normal, pain when they pee or a sore lower belly. Men may have pain in the testicles (that’d be the balls), discharge from the penis, a need to pee more often or discomfort when going to the bathroom.
Now for some good news. Unlike HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), herpes and some other STDs, chlamydia can be cured. Once you and your partner have both finished all your pills as directed, you can have sex again — with a condom every time.
So how do you know when you have it? If you have had intercourse or oral sex without a condom, or have any of the symptoms described above, go to your health center or hospital and get checked.
In Baffin, we are fortunate to have technology that can find infection in a urine sample. Swabs done from the tip of the penis (or the chimney sweep as one patient called it) are no longer done in Nunavut.
Urine testing is a private, comfortable and reliable way of doing it. For women, it is routine to test for STDs during an annual pap smear.
If you do have the infection, all the people you have had sex with in the past three months should get tested and treated. Public health nurses can help notify your past partners without using your name so confidentiality is maintained.
And how do you minimize your risk of getting chlamydia? Being intimate without genital contact is one option. Limiting the number of partners you have is another. In responsible relationships, both partners should get the “all-clear” for STDs before choosing to have sex.
And for every sexual encounter you do choose to have, use condoms. As the new Lifesavers condom packages say, “If he covers his dick, you won’t get sick.” It’s about respect — for yourself and for your partner.
Next week: HPV (the virus that causes cervical cancer and genital warts).
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Madeleine Cole is a physician at Baffin Regional Hospital.