What is Extragenital Chlamydia Testing?
Contrary to popular belief, chlamydia does not always just infect your genitals. In fact, it can also affect your mouth, throat and rectal region. Today, let’s take a closer look at the oral version of this sexually transmitted infection (STI). Believe it or not, oral chlamydia is trickier to test for than you may expect.
Understanding Oral Chlamydia
In 1907, a man named Stanislaus von Prowazek discovered chlamydia in Berlin. The name translates (very loosely) from Greek to mean “cloak” which, as the story goes, is because of the bacteria’s ability to “cloak” the nuclei of infected cells. It’s kind of remarkable, given that Stanislaus figured this out by scraping samples from an orangutan.
How Can You Catch Chlamydia in the Mouth?
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection transmitted through sexual contact with the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus of an infected partner. As we mentioned earlier, some STIs can affect other regions such as the mouth and throat as well. Chlamydia is one of these.
Usually you get chlamydia in the throat by engaging in oral sex with a partner that has chlamydia. Chances are, like 80 percent of Americans, you’ve engaged in oral sex. Believe it or not, this is exactly why you should get an oral chlamydia test. Although chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, you probably won’t know if you have oral chlamydia without specifically testing for it.
The area where you become infected is often linked to your sexual activity. For example, it is possible to catch oral chlamydia through performing oral sex on a partner who is carrying a genital infection. In the reverse example, if you are infected with throat chlamydia, you can spread the infection to your partner’s genitals.
What Are the Most Common Oral Chlamydia Symptoms?
Pop quiz time: what’s the difference between throat chlamydia and chlamydia in the genitals? If you’re not sure, don’t feel bad. Many of us don’t even realize that there are multiple types of this sexually transmitted infection.
To further complicate matters, both genital and throat chlamydia can be difficult to detect without proper screening. Both forms, in addition to rectal chlamydia, may never show any visible symptoms. You see, chlamydia is typically an asymptomatic infection.
If chlamydia in the throat does show easily detectable symptoms, they are often as simple as a sore throat and possibly a low grade fever and/or swollen lymph nodes. All of these are easily mistaken for something else if a doctor isn’t specifically looking for chlamydia.
There are two sides to this coin. Since symptoms are mild, and so many different things can cause a sore throat and fever, the infection is often dismissed and goes untreated. This may make chlamydia seem like no big deal. The truth is, neglecting regular screenings can cause the infection to get worse even if there have never been any symptoms in the first place.
Oral chlamydia symptoms in women:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Low-grade fever
Oral chlamydia symptoms in men:
- Low-grade fever
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
If you don’t get screened for oral chlamydia and you have an infection, it can get worse. If left undetected and untreated, chlamydia can lead to serious consequences, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility and chronic pelvic pain.
How Can I Avoid a Chlamydia Throat Infection?
Now that you know a bit more about oral chlamydia, here’s how to lower your risk of infection:
When we say “wear condoms during sex,” don’t forget that this includes oral sex, the leading cause of oral chlamydia. If a partner has chlamydia on their genital area and you go down on them, the infection can be passed to your mouth. On the other hand, if your partner has chlamydia on their mouth and they go down on you, it can be passed to your genitals. While condoms don’t always prevent STIs, they definitely lower your risk.
Have “The Talk” With Your Partner
Communication is important in any relationship, whether it’s a one-night stand or you’re with a monogamous partner. Being open with one another, and making sure that you don’t fool around with someone who has not been tested, will help you to avoid unwanted infections. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to most things, and that includes sexually transmitted infections. We get it: having “the talk” can be awkward. But getting an STI is way more inconvenient. Own your confidence and be unabashed about your own wellness.
Luckily for all of us, modern medicine has come a long way since 1907. You can easily treat this bacterial infection with just a single dose of antibiotics. Seven days later, you’re back in the game. That is, if you were responsible enough to get yourself tested.
On a positive note: chlamydia is usually not a difficult infection to clear up. The only real trick is that you need to know you are infected first. Otherwise, you won’t be able to begin treatment. Of course, the only way to truly know is to be tested.
The problem is that most people are never properly screened. They wait to experience detectable symptoms before getting tested without realizing that when it comes to chlamydia there may never be identifiable symptoms. And if you don’t know you’re infected, you may be continually passing chlamydia to your sexual partners. In time, untreated chlamydia in the mouth and throat can develop harmful side effects.
Take an Oral Chlamydia Test After Being with a New Partner
It’s always a good idea to get tested on a regular basis, but especially after sexual activity with a new partner. Even if you have “the talk,” they may tell you that they don’t have an STI based on the fact that they don’t have any symptoms. But as we mentioned above, many infections don’t show symptoms. This is why it is vital that you make sure your partner was actually tested. This is the only way to know for sure. You don’t want to put your own health into anyone else’s hands. Testing lets you know your status for sure. It also allows you to get diagnosed and treated early when an infection is detected.
We should note that it’s also a good idea to get tested on a routine basis even if you are in a monogamous relationship. Unfortunately, you can’t guarantee that your partner is being safe and faithful even if you are.
myLAB Box is the first at-home testing service to offer extragenital testing, which searches for chlamydia and gonorrhea infections that affect the mouth, throat and rectal regions of your body. The only caveat is that you must know to screen yourself. So if your sex life includes oral or anal sex, it’s a good idea to schedule routine extragenital testing.
- This study found that the practice of unprotected oral sex with a partner infected with genital chlamydia resulted in significant occurrence of chlamydia in the throat. See: Jebakumar SP, Storey C, Lusher M, et al. Value of screening for oro-pharyngeal Chlamydia trachomatis infection. Journal of Clinical Pathology. 1995.
- Chlamydia rarely causes symptoms in the throat. If it does, it tends to cause shallow ulcers in the mouth or on the lips which are painless and do not require specific treatment. See: Baguley S, Greenhouse P. Non-genital manifestations of Chlamydia trachomatis. Clinical Medicine. 2003.
Of 4,299 consultations at an STD clinic, the detection rate for chlamydia in the throat was 1.9% and all cases were asymptomatic. See:
Peters, Remco PH, et al. Screening of oropharynx and anorectum increases prevalence of Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae infection in female STD clinic visitors. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 2011.
The specificity of the Amplicor PCR was 100% for pharyngeal swab samples. This is the same test provided in the myLAB Box home test kit. See:
Ostergaard L, Agner T, Krarup E, et al. PCR for detection of Chlamydia trachomatis in endocervical, urethral, rectal, and pharyngeal swab samples obtained from patients attending an STD clinic. Genitourinary Medicine. 1997.
For treatment, the CDC recommends Azithromycin (single dose) or Doxycycline (taken twice daily for 7 days). Both are available by prescription only but are relatively inexpensive, averaging $25–$85. See:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chlamydial Infections. 2015.
- Dudareva-Vizule S, Haar K, Sailer A, et al. Prevalence of pharyngeal and rectal Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae infections among men who have sex with men in Germany. Sexually Transmitted Infections. 2014.
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- Geisler WM, Wang C, Morrison S, et al. The Natural History of Untreated Chlamydia trachomatis Infection in the Interval Between Screening and Returning for Treatment. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 2008.
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- Louv WC, Austin H, Perlman J, et al. Oral contraceptive use and the risk of chlamydial and gonococcal infections. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 1989.