How Long Can Chlamydia Be Dormant?

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Statistics from the CDC indicate that there are approximately 4 million cases of chlamydia in the US every year. The infection is most prevalent in young adults. Over 60% of new infections occur in 15-24-year-olds. Chlamydia is spread through oral sex and sexual intercourse. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting and spreading chlamydia.

Can chlamydia be dormant?

Chlamydia is often asymptomatic, which means that it doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms. As chlamydia can lay dormant for a long time, many people may have a low-grade infection without realizing. Research from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control suggests that over 70% of women and 50% of men are asymptomatic when diagnosed with chlamydia. 

How long can chlamydia stay dormant?

It is often difficult to detect chlamydia without routine or regular testing due to the prevalence of asymptomatic cases. Chlamydia is sometimes referred to as a silent STD because it can lie dormant for long periods. Studies suggest that around 10% of men and up to 30% of women who have a confirmed infection will develop symptoms but time-frames vary. 

Some people will develop symptoms within weeks while others may have dormant infections for years. When chlamydia is dormant, it causes low-grade infection. This often means that the individual won’t experience symptoms unless they have a flare-up, which results in symptomatic infection. 

If chlamydia is dormant, can it be detected?

Dormant sexually transmitted diseases don’t cause active symptoms but this does not mean that tests cannot detect them. Regular screening and STI tests are recommended for anyone who is sexually active to identify sexually transmitted diseases and reduce the spread of infection. If an individual who has chlamydia has a test, such as a swab, urine or blood test, chlamydia will be detected even if there are no symptoms and the infection is classed as dormant. Tests can usually detect chlamydia within 1-2 weeks of exposure. 

How long does it usually take for chlamydia symptoms to show?

Chlamydia symptoms vary in men and women. If individuals who have chlamydia develop symptoms, the time it takes to notice signs can differ significantly because there are several factors that affect the incubation period. These include:

  • The quantity of bacteria the individual was exposed to
  • The body part that was exposed to the bacteria, for example, the genitals, throat or anus
  • The speed of bacterial reproduction
  • The individual’s immune response

For men

There is no significant difference in the time it takes for symptoms to develop in men and women. However, there is a difference in the prevalence of symptoms. It is more common for women to have asymptomatic infections than men. Most men who develop symptoms will experience signs 1-3 weeks after exposure. 

For women

Most women who experience symptoms of chlamydia will notice signs within 3 weeks but in some cases, symptoms can present months after exposure. 

What are common chlamydia symptoms?

Common symptoms of chlamydia include:

  • Pain when urinating
  • Unusual discharge
  • Pain during intercourse
  • An itchy, burning sensation when urinating
  • Bleeding after sex or between periods (in women)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain in the testicles (for men)

Possible complications of untreated chlamydia include:

For women:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Pregnancy risks

For men:

  • Swollen testicles
  • Sexually acquired reactive arthritis (SARA)

How to treat chlamydia

The most common treatment for chlamydia is taking antibiotic medication. Antibiotics, including azithromycin and doxycycline, target the infection and are successful in 95% of cases. 

If the two main antibiotics are not suitable, for example, the individual is pregnant or they have an allergy, alternatives may be recommended. Treatment with doxycycline takes 7 days. If you are prescribed azithromycin, you will take one dose of 1g followed by 2 daily doses of 500mg. 

There is evidence to suggest that the bacteria that cause chlamydia, C.trachomatis, are developing antibiotic resistance. As most cases are asymptomatic and infection rates are rising, more treatment options may be required in the future, including vaccines, according to some researchers. 

When to see a doctor

If you have symptoms of chlamydia, or you are worried that you may have been exposed to the infection, for example, you have had sexual intercourse with somebody who has tested positive, it’s beneficial to see your doctor. 

It’s also wise to get tested if you have had sex and the condom split, your partner has symptoms, or you are thinking about stopping using condoms. STI tests are also recommended for pregnant women and women who are hoping to get pregnant.

Tests for chlamydia can confirm or rule out a diagnosis very quickly. If you are diagnosed with chlamydia, treatment will help to reduce the risk of complications. Studies show that reduced testing during the pandemic correlated with an increase in infections. 

Get help from an online doctor

If you have any questions about chlamydia, you want to arrange a sexual health test, or you are worried that you might be at risk, you can get help from an online doctor. You can schedule a virtual consultation and find out more about testing, treatment options and symptoms. 

Key takeaways

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases and it has become more prevalent in the US in recent years. 

Often, chlamydia is known as a silent infection because the majority of people do not develop symptoms. Chlamydia can lie dormant for months or years and it is often detected through screening and routine sexual health testing. 

If symptoms do develop, it usually takes 1-3 weeks after exposure to notice signs. The most common symptoms include pain and discomfort during urination, an itching or burning sensation when urinating and pain during sex. It is important to seek advice if you have symptoms, or you think that there is a risk that you have been exposed. 

Regular testing is the best way to detect infections early and reduce the spread of chlamydia. 

Sources:

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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