STDs Expert Forum
Contracting Chlamydia
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The STD Forum is intended only for questions and support pertaining to sexually transmitted diseases other than HIV/AIDS, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, human papillomavirus, genital warts, trichomonas, other vaginal infections, nongonoccal urethritis (NGU), cervicitis, molluscum contagiosum, chancroid, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). All questions will be answered by H. Hunter Handsfield, M.D. or Edward W Hook, MD.

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Contracting Chlamydia

Hello, recently both my husband and I tested positive for chlamydia (Dec. 10).  I was tested for chlamydia in July 2009 and test was negative.  Obviously my first reaction was that my husband cheated on me and infected me (he is the only man I've ever slept with).  After many talks and my husband willing to take a lie detector test to prove he hasn't slept with anyone else I am wondering what are the chances of getting chlamydia through other means.  I've done a lot of reading up on this topic since I got infected and there is a lot of contradictory information on the web.  My husband and his friends sometime go to a sauna and the men walk around naked there (its an all men's sauna).  My question is is it possible that if an infected man sat on a chair naked, and then got up and my husband sat on that same chair naked as well could he get infected that way, since both of their genitals are in contact with the chair?  Does chlamydia live in semen only, or in urine as well (for men of course)?  If an infected man sits on a toilet seat and his penis touches the edge and then someone sits right after and their penis touches that area as well can you get infected?  Can the infection live outside the body of any amount of time?  
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Welcome to the forum.  You had accurate replies on the chlamydia community forum.  

Let's first clarify that you had proper kind of testing -- i.e. you both had a standard, modern molecular test (called a nucleic acid amplifcation test, or NAAT) done on urine or, in your case, a vaginal or cervical swab.  There are older, non-NAAT tests (such as DNA probe tests) that are less accurate.  And if by any chance all this is based on blood tests, then there is no problem.  The chlamydia blood tests are useless and often wrong.  The rest of my reply assumes proper testing by NAAT.  (If in doubt, check with the doctor or lab where the tests were done and confirm exactly the tests you had.)

With that assumption of proper testing, there are only 3 possibilties:  that one of you had sex with someone else; that both of you had false positive tests; or that one of you had chlamydia for 7+ years.  Let's analyze them one at a time.  (Your question about nonsexual acquisition is addressed separately at the end.)

To my knowledge, the longest documented chlamydial infection reported in the medical literature is 4 years, in a woman, and most infections clear up long before that.  While I cannot rule out carriage for 7 years, it is extremely unlikely -- especially since you had at least one negative test during that interval.

False positive tests?  With NAAT, false positive results are extremely rare, and the odds both of you would have false results at the same time are zero for practical purposes.

That leaves recent sex with another partner the most likely explanation.  I cannot judge your husband's truthfulness (or yours, for that matter).  All I can say is that among all couples in your situation, this is the usual explanation.

Is there a 4th potential explanation, that chlamydia was non-sexually acquired, e.g. with non-sexual contact with an infected person's genital secretions or urine?  Or by toilet seat?  That has never been known to happen, and the scenarios you describe are not plausible.  And no, chlamydia cannot live outside the body for more than a few minutes.

I hope this helps, even if it isn't what you hoped to hear.  But please do let me know about what tests were done.

Regards--  HHH, MD
4 Comments
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Thank you for responding Doctor.  I had the test done by cervical swab and he did a urine test so I think that both a pretty accurate.  I was also diagnosed with some vaginal bacteria but my doc said its not necessarily an STD.  

I had a baby in Oct. '08 and I was told in the community forum that they check for STD's at that time.  I was diagnosed with a bladder infection (i got those often and yeast infections) unless I have been misdiagnosed I don't think I had it for seven years.

Can chlamydia clear up on its own? You mention that most infections clear up long before if I had it for 7 years?

Based on what you said about non-sexual contact, I gather that there has to be full penetration for the infection to transmit from one person to another?

I have kept my husband involved in these forums and he's been reading with me.  As for me, well if I had cheated I wouldn't be asking all these questions as I would be certain that I caught it somewhere.

One last question...do you know what kind of research has been done on transmitting the disease, what I mean is do scientists just sit in a lab and take the infection from one tray and then put it in another and see if it spreads or do they actually use people and well you know where i am going with this question?
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239123_tn?1267651214
Yes, chlamydia normally clears up on its own without treatment, usually within a year.  As far as we know, penetration is required for chlamydia to be transmitted.  But it is impossible to say whether there might be rare exceptions.  And there has been no detailed research on it, and no there have never been experiments in which people were intentionally exposed to chlamydia (or any other STD).  Most of what we know is based on just observing patients -- for example, never finding chlamydia in virgins.

The only other explanation I didn't mention is a mix-up of specimens in the lab.  However, labs take great precautions against this, and it would be an incredible coincidence if it happened to both your specimens.  But this might be something for you to discuss with your doctors.
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Thank you Doctor for responding to my questions.  This puts my mind at some ease.
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I heard that if a woman has anal sex with a woman and then vaginal sex with her (in the same session) that she can contract chlamydia that way. Is this possible?
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