Chlamydia are tiny parasitic microorganisms, closely related to bacteria. They are usually transĀ­ferred from one person to another through sexual contact. In fact, chlamydial infection is now the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. The infection also can be passed from a woman to her infant during a vaginal delivery, causing infections of the lungs, ears, and eyes, and, in rare cases, even death in the newborn. Chlamydia can infect the male or female genital tract, the urinary tract, and the anus. The most common symptoms in women are vaginal itching and a smelly, yellowish discharge. Without treatment, the infection can worsen and spread, causing abdominal pain, bleeding between menstrual periods, painful intercourse, painful or frequent urination, nausea, and fever. The usual symptoms in men are a discharge from the penis and itching or burning around the penis opening, particularly during urination. If untreated, the infection may worsen, causing fever and pain in the groin. In many cases, especially in women, chlamydial infections do not produce symptoms until they progress to pelvic inflammatory disease . Even without treatment, initial symptoms in both males and females may subside within a month while the infection continues to spread throughout the reproductive tracts, causing chronic bladder and urethral problems, as well as infertility in both women and men.

Diagnostic Studies And Procedures

If chlamydial infection is suspected, a sample of secretions from the woman’s vagina and vulva or the man’s penis is taken. In addition, a urine specimen may be requested, and men may be asked to provide a specimen of seminal fluid. These samples are then cultured and analyzed. When chlamydia is found, it is not uncommon for the bacteria that cause gonorrhea also to be detected, because these two infections often occur together.

Medical Treatments

In adults, chlamydial infection is treatĀ­ed with antibiotics, which usually cures the disease in the early stages. Tetracycline is the antibiotic of choice, although erythromycin is an effective alternative for pregnant women, who should avoid tetracycline because it can damage the baby’s teeth. Antibiotic therapy lasts from 10 to 14 days. The entire course of treatment must be completed, even though the symptoms are likely to disappear some what sooner. To prevent reinfection, sexual partners must also be treated. Because antibiotics do not distinguish between chlamydia and beneficial bacteria, such as lactobacilli, organisms that help control the growth of yeast in the reproductive and gastrointestinal tracts, some doctors suggest that a woman also use a vaginal antifungal medication while taking antibiotics for other problems. Several preparations are available as over the counter creams and suppositories. Look for products that contain clotrimazole, miconazole, or nystatin. In certain advanced cases of chlamydia, the infected glands may have to be drained or, in rare cases, surgically removed. Even after the appropriate therapy, relapses may occur. Therefore, many doctors recommend having a retest one month after the initial round of therapy is completed.

Alternative Therapies

Only a full course of antibiotics can eradicate chlamydia, but some alternative therapies may augment their effectiveness and reduce side effects.

Herbal Medicine

Garlic is promoted for its natural antibiotic properties. It may be taken fresh or in odorless pill form. Other herbal remedies that may augment antibiotic therapy include echinacea, horsetail, pau d’arco, and saw palmetto. Some herbalists also recommend chaparral, but this herb has been linked to liver toxicity and should be avoided.

Nutrition Therapy

To prevent yeast overgrowth while patients are on antibiotics, nutrition therapists suggest taking acidophilus pills or eating yogurt made with active lactobacillus or acidophilus cultures. It’s also advisable to increase fluid intake, especially if the bladder and urethra are infected.

Self Treatment

You can reduce your risk of contracting chlamydia by limiting your number of sexual partners and by always using a condom. Some studies have shown that spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 kill bacteria and chlamydia. Anyone with a chlamydial infection should abstain from all sexual inter course until antibiotic treatment is completed and follow up tests show that the infection has cleared up.

Other Causes of Genital Discharges

Genital discharges and discomfort also may be caused by other sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea and syphilis, as well as by yeast infections and cervical cancer in women or by urethritis in men.