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Chlamydia is probably the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) among young adults in the United States. Because it often causes very mild or no symptoms, many people never know they have it, and they pass it on through unprotected sex to unsuspecting partners. 

Being diagnosed with a chlamydial infection, however, does not mean that one necessarily caught it during sex.

Different Strains Of Chlamydia

One strain of chlamydia causes a disease known as psittacosis. This pneumonia-like disease can be spread by sneezing. It is also passed from parrots, parakeets, cockatiels, sparrows, turkeys, chickens, pigeons, and ducks to humans when the infected bird "sneezes." If you catch this strain of chlamydia, some, well, unusual activities would be required to transfer from your nose, throat, and lungs to your genital tract, but it's not utterly impossible.

Another strain of chlamydia is transferred from the mother to infant during birth, as the baby passes the cervix. The microorganism is not transmitted to the baby until it is born. This strain causes a condition called trachoma. It can cause blindness, or at least chronic eye inflammation. The infection can also lead to chornically sore throat.

Yet another strain of chlamydia causes pneumonia, and is passed from human to human by droplets of mucus and saliva. Not every chlamydial infection is sexually transmitted. However, is it possible to, say, catch chlamydia from a toilet seat?

Chlamydia: Key Facts

Here's what is important to know:

  • Your immune system usually can fight off a chlamydial infection. However, if you already have HIV or herpes, or you have diabetes or you are receiving chemotherapy for cancer or an autoimmune condition, you are more susceptible to the disease.
  • Rectal chlamydial infections are almost always sexually transmitted.
  • Just because your sex partner doesn't have symptoms of chlamydia, that doesn't mean that he or she didn't give you the disease. Up to 25 percent of women who have chlamydia and 75 percent of men who have chlamydia show no symptoms of the infection.
  • Untreated chlamydia infections typically last about 60 days. If your sex partner is symptom-free now, he or she still could have given you the disease 60 or more days ago. 
  • The symptoms of chlamydia, in women, can last far longer that the presence of the microorganism in the bloodstream, or in genital secretions, sometimes for years. Just because a woman seems to have chlamydia doesn't mean she does.
  • In rare cases, trachoma (a chlamydial infection of the eye) is transmitted by sharing cosmetics, especially eye liner and mascara.

About the idea that chlamydia could be transmitted in a bathroom, it's not utterly impossible, but here's what would be required: Chlamydia can't survive outside the human body unless it is in a warm fluid, such as semen, menstrual fluid, sputum, or mucus, that has been very recently deposited by an infected person. The microbe will survive longer on a hard surface than on a soft surface, and in a humid environement than in a dry environment. However, not only does the body fluid have to be freshly deposited and in a warm environment, it has to come in contact with a mucus membrane (the urethra, the anus, or the mouth). It is difficult to imagine, and we really don't want to try, that someone would intentionally expose himself or herself to the germ.

What are the chances that someone you meet has chlamydia? That depends on his or her profession. In one study, about 17 percent of sex workers (prostitutes) had the disease, although it was somewhat more common in female sex workers than in male sex workers. About 6 percent of men who patronize sex workers, of either sex, will have the disease. 

In the United States population as a whole, about 1 percent of men and 4 percent of women aged 20 to 24 have chlamydia. By age 40, only about one person in 1000 has the condition, and by age 65, it's just one in 100,000. The older your partner, the safer he or she is for STDs, as long as there is no HIV.

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