Chlamydia is perhaps the most common of all sexually transmitted diseases, though it is comparatively unsung. While it can produce symptoms such as discharges, burning sensations, abnormal bleeding, pain, and nausea, these symptoms are easily confused with those caused by gonorrhoea. In addition, in nearly three quarters of women and nearly half of men chlamydia produces no symptoms at all.
Untreated, the infection quietly spreads until it can attack fallopian tubes and ovaries, causing permanent damage to the female reproduction system, and in some cases even infertility. (It can also lead to epididymitis in men, which can cause sterility.) Fortunately, affordable and reliable testing is available for chlamydia – and it is highly responsive to antibiotics. Unfortunately, treatment is often tragically delayed until it is too late.
In addition to its venereal impact, Chlamydia trachomatis is also responsible for trachoma, the leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide. Repeat infections with the bacteria eventually cause the eyelids to invert, and untreated scarring ultimately destroys the vision.
Trachoma is primarily confined to the developing world where medical care is limited. However, because C. trachomatis bacteria can be transmitted from a mother to a child during birth, half of the children born to mothers with chlamydia enter the world with an eye infection – or worse: chlamydia has also been implicated in causing infant pneumonia, as well as premature- and still-births.