Straight talk about sex and chlamydia infection

Tots to Teens

June 04, 1996|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My girlfriend told me that once you get chlamydia you can't get rid of it and it makes you sterile. I'm a 16-year-old girl and had chlamydia about a year ago. Am I sterile?

Your girlfriend is confusing chlamydia infection with some of its complications. We will try to straighten this out for you.

Chlamydia trachomatis (usually referred to as chlamydia) is a germ that is transmitted through sexual intercourse. It is one of the two most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States and is most common among teen-agers and people in their early 20s.

At first, chlamydia infects the cervix, which is the part of the female genitals that separates the vagina from the uterus (womb). If the infection is identified and treated appropriately at this point, it is entirely curable. Two commonly prescribed antibiotics are very effective in treating chlamydia during the stage of infection: doxycycline (which must be taken for seven days) and azithromycin ( which requires but a single dose). Unfortunately, many teen-age girls with chlamydia are unaware they are infected because they have no symptoms.

In some of these young women, the chlamydia germ moves up into the uterus and fallopian tubes and causes a very severe infection called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Some but not all girls who get PID will have such severe scarring of their tubes that they do become infertile. This is because the ovaries still produce an egg but the scarring in the tubes prevents the sperm from reaching the egg to fertilize it.

In other cases, the sperm are able to get through the tube to fertilize the egg but the tubal scarring is such that the fertilized egg remains in the tube rather than moving down to the uterus where it should be. This condition is called an ectopic pregnancy and is a serious medical emergency. Under these circumstances, the pregnancy is not viable (cannot progress).

Obviously, the best prevention is never to get chlamydia in the first place. Abstinence offers the surest protection, but for those young people who decide to have sex, regular use of condoms and spermicide every time they have sex also offers protection.

In addition, any sexually active teen-ager, male or female, should be screened at least once a year for chlamydia. Some experts recommend that this screening be done twice yearly. Make sure that the doctor you see for your reproductive health care offers this test.

If you ever develop any symptoms of infection (such as a vaginal discharge or burning with urination) or if your partner ever tells you that he has been treated for chlamydia, make sure to get checked out promptly.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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