The sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis is chlamydia. It is the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the US. Two-thirds of new infections occur among youth aged 15-24 years. As per CDC, 1 in 20 sexually active young women have chlamydia who belong to the age group 14-24 years.
What is Chlamydia?
One can get chlamydia by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who is infected by chlamydia. Some of the symptoms in men include burning sensation during urination, yellow or green discharge from the penis, pain in the lower abdomen, or pain in the testicles. And common symptoms in women include painful sexual intercourse, vaginal discharge, burning sensation during urination, pain in the lower abdomen, inflammation of the cervix, or bleeding between periods.
The doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics, which include azithromycin or doxycycline. If chlamydia is left untreated, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility and may also increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy in women. In men, it may cause epididymis or male chlamydial urethritis. And untreated chlamydia may increase a person’s chances of acquiring or transmitting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men are also at risk, as this infection can spread through oral and anal sex.
Pregnant women who are infected by chlamydia can pass on the infection to their babies during delivery. And this can cause an eye infection or pneumonia in new-born. It is recommended that every sexually active woman younger than 25 years, should get a test for chlamydia every year.
What is Oral Chlamydia?
Oral chlamydia is an infection that is found in the mouth or throat. It occurs after having oral sex with an infected person. Most cases of chlamydia, as well as that, occur in the throat, do not have any symptoms. It’s essential to seek treatment if a person gets oral chlamydia and should take steps to prevent chlamydia infections in the throat. Chlamydia in the throat is termed pharyngeal chlamydia infection. Moreover, getting oral sex from someone who has contracted a chlamydia infection of the throat can also transmit the bacteria to the genitals. This is not a lifelong condition, it can be cured when treated with the right antibiotics.
Oral Chlamydia transmission
Generally, chlamydia is transmitted during sexual contact. The infection may develop in the genitals, the rectum, or the mouth and throat. One can get chlamydia when their mucus membranes, such as those of the vagina, penis, or rectum, come in contact with chlamydia bacteria. And these bacteria enter the mucus membranes and multiply. Oral chlamydia will develop in the mouth and throat after performing oral sex on an infected partner. It could include mouth-to-penis, mouth-to-vagina, or mouth-to-anus contact. Oral chlamydia does not occur due to mouth-to-mouth kissing. Chlamydia in the mouth or throat is not common when compared to infections in the genitals or rectum. A person with oral chlamydia can spread the infection to a partner during oral sex. And this also includes performing oral sex on the genitals or rectum.
Oral Chlamydia symptoms
Most of the time chlamydia in the throat causes no symptoms. But when they appear it may include:
- Sore throat
- Sores around lips
- Redness in the throat
- Mouth with white spots
- Scratchy, dry throat
- Lesions around the mouth (looks like cold sores)
- Dental problems
- Mouth pain
- Mouth sores (which doesn’t heal)
- Chlamydia bumps on the tongue (rare)
It is possible to contract the infection in the throat as well as the genital area.
Genital Chlamydia symptoms
- Burning while urinating
- Unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
- Pain or swelling in the testicles
- Rectal pain
Oral Chlamydia risk factors
Certain risk factors could increase the chances of acquiring an oral chlamydia infection. That includes:
- Poor oral health
- Oral cancer
- Tooth decay
- Bleeding gums
- Gum disease
- Weakened immune system
Test for Oral Chlamydia
Usually, urine samples are used to diagnose chlamydia, but that doesn’t help in diagnosing chlamydia in the throat. So, a doctor may swab the throat to test for chlamydia. The swab is sent to a laboratory, which tests the specimen for the presence of DNA from the bacteria that cause chlamydia.
Treatment for Oral Chlamydia
Chlamydia is usually treated with antibiotics like azithromycin which is usually prescribed in a single, large dose, and doxycycline is taken twice per day for about one week. The same antibiotics to treat chlamydia in the groin and may also be prescribed to treat chlamydia in the throat. It is important to avoid oral sex and intercourse for at least 7 days when taking a one-time antibiotic dose. Chlamydia can recur again even after the treatment. But treatment can stop complications that a person has already experienced due to chlamydia. Post-treatment, it’s better to always have protected to avoid contracting a new infection.
The sex partners of an infected person should also be tested for infection. People who are diagnosed with the infection should not have sex until 7 days after they and their sex partners have completed treatment.
Untreated Oral Chlamydia
According to CDC, when a person has chlamydia in the throat, it might increase the risk of getting HIV. Chlamydia infection in the throat can make you more vulnerable to other infections. When the body is defending the chlamydia bacteria, it doesn’t fend off other infections as effectively. This can lead to other problems such as mouth infections, tooth loss, gum disease, and dental pain.
Is oral chlamydia related to other chlamydia?
Chlamydia that affects the genitals & the throat is called chlamydia trachomatis. There exist few other forms of chlamydia to the strain responsible for oral infections. That includes
- Lymphogranuloma venereum or LGV – A sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by three strains of the bacterium chlamydia trachomatis and this is an aggressive form of chlamydia. And is passed from person to person from direct contact with lesions. Most of the time, it is transmitted during sexual intercourse or another skin-to-skin contact.
- Chlamydia pneumonia – This is a type of bacteria, that causes respiratory tract infections, like pneumonia. This causes damage to the lining of the respiratory tract including the throat, windpipe, and lungs. It spread by sneezing or coughing, which creates small respiratory droplets that contain the bacteria.
The treatment generally does not vary between types of chlamydia. The different types of chlamydia are still bacterial infections, so they are usually treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics like doxycycline.
How to prevent oral chlamydia?
- Choose sexual partners carefully
- Use a dental dam when performing oral sex on the vulva, vagina, or anus
- Get tested before starting a new relationship
- Be in a mutually monogamous relationship
- Get regular tests for STDs
Who is at a higher risk for oral chlamydia?
- Young people (< 25 years)
- Gay or bisexual men
- Lack of barrier contraception
- A person who has multiple partners
- A person who frequently changes the partner
- Sex workers
- Sexual assault
- Drug addicts
- People who are homeless
- Travel and having casual sex abroad
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
About 40% of women and 20% of men with chlamydial infection are co-infected with gonorrhea. Both infections gonorrhea and chlamydia are caused by bacteria and can be passed on through oral sex. Like oral chlamydia, gonorrhea of the throat doesn’t show any symptoms. But when symptoms do appear, it usually appears a week after exposure and can include a sore throat. Both of the infections can be cured and treated effectively with antibiotics. They are unlikely to cause long-term issues if treated quickly.
Chlamydia and HIV
When a person is diagnosed with chlamydia they should also test for HIV. Because chlamydia increases the risk of getting HIV, as it causes inflammation and sores that make it easier for HIV to enter the body. When antiretrovirals are taken, it’s important to consult with the doctor, how the chlamydia treatment may interact with your HIV drugs.
Facts about Oral Chlamydia
- In 2016, about 0.2–3.2% of women, 0–22.0% of men who have sex with women, and 0–3.6% of men who have sex with men had pharyngeal chlamydia.
- In 2010, a study looked into the rates of oral chlamydia infection in heterosexuals who had known or suspected genital infection and reported recent unprotected oral sex. And it was identified that 7% of women and almost 3% of men had positive throat swabs.
- About 50% of infections in men and 75% of infections in women have no symptoms.
- According to CDC, among MSM screened for pharyngeal chlamydial infection, the positivity ranged from 0.5% to 2.3%.