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Can you get chlamydia from kissing?

There are plenty of myths and misconceptions surrounding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and how you contract them, one being that you can catch chlamydia from kissing. Let's explore this ...

Can you catch chlamydia from kissing?

No, you cannot get chlamydia from kissing.

It's difficult to say where this myth comes from, but Thorrun Govind, pharmacist and chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, believes such myths probably derive from a lack of accurate information. Thankfully, trustworthy information on how you catch STIs (also referred to as STDs) is now more accessible.

Can you catch any STDs from kissing?

It isn't common for STIs to be transmitted via kissing but, if your sexual partner has cold sores, for example, these can be passed mouth-to-mouth.

However, for blood-borne infections like HIV or hepatitis B or C, they are very rarely passed on via kissing. HIV is transmitted via bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids or blood (even during periods). If a person who is having oral sex has ulcers or bleeding gums, they may get HIV through the broken skin in their mouth, but only if their partner is infected with HIV.

When it comes to infections in the genital area, if this area comes into contact with your mouth, it can possibly lead to transmission. Chlamydia tends to favour genital areas so it is very rarely (but not never), transmitted through oral sex.

Other STIs can be spread via oral sex, but risk depends on the type of infection, the type of sex, and the number of sexual activities performed1.

What is chlamydia?

How common is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs in the UK2. It is caused by a specific strain of bacteria known as Chlamydia trachomatis.

Chlamydia is passed on via unprotected sex and Govind says it is particularly common in sexually active teenagers and young adults.

It is recommended that, if you are sexually active and under the age of 25 in England, you should have a chlamydia test once a year, particularly if having sex with new or casual partners, and/or having sex without condoms.

If you are an adult under the age of 25 who has chlamydia, you should be offered another test 3-6 months after being treated for the infection. This is because there is an increased risk of under-25s catching it again.

As for over-25s, you should continue to practise safe sex and attend regular sexual health check-ups.

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?

Chlamydia symptoms can vary from person to person - some people might not display any symptoms at all, particularly in women. However, noticeable symptoms can include:

  • Unusual discharge from the vagina, penis, or bottom.
  • Pain when urinating.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Bleeding after sex.
  • Bleeding between periods.
  • Pain and swelling in testicles.

What causes chlamydia?

Chlamydia is passed on through sex or contact with infected genital fluids (semen or vaginal fluid). This means it can be contracted by sharing unwashed sex toys, as well as having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Testing for chlamydia

"A urine test or a swab test can be used to test for chlamydia. It's important to get tested if you think you might have it, even if there's only a slight concern, just to be on the safe side," says Govind.

"It's key that your current sexual partner and any recent sexual partners you have had also be tested and treated to help stop the spread of the infection."

You can get tested at your GP surgery or at a sexual health clinic, where the staff can give you free, confidential medical advice and offer you contraception.

Having a chlamydia test does not always involve a physical examination by a doctor, and you can actually buy STI test kits to do at home.

How to treat chlamydia

Chlamydia is usually treated with antibiotics. Chlamydia treatment includes a course of:

Doxycycline

This antibiotic is to be taken for a week. You should not have any type of sex until this course of treatment is complete.

As with all antibiotics, you should double-check that it is safe for you to take first. For example, doxycycline is not safe for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

This antibiotic is also used to treat skin conditions and chest infections.

Azithromycin

This treatment is to be taken once a day for three days. You should wait for seven days after treatment before you have sex.

Azithromycin is also available in higher doses and, like doxycycline, can be used to treat chest infections too. It might not be safe for those with liver and kidney problems, or heart conditions, or a history of having had an allergic reaction to a medicine. Always flag any concerns to your doctor and they can advise whether a treatment is appropriate for you.

Whatever treatment you are prescribed for chlamydia, it's important to finish the prescribed course and take your medication as advised to ensure the infection is treated. If you have any conditions that mean you cannot have this medication or you are allergic to it, there are other antibiotics which can be prescribed by your doctor.

What happens if chlamydia is left untreated?

If left untreated, chlamydia can become very serious. There is a chance of it spreading to the womb and causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can then lead to ectopic pregnancy and infertility.

In men, complications of chlamydia can mean it spreading to the testicles. The testicles can then become inflamed and painful.

Another potential complication of untreated chlamydia is sexually active reactive arthritis (SARA). This usually occurs within the first few weeks, with symptoms involving joints, eyes, or the urethra becoming inflamed.

While these complications are rare, they highlight the importance of getting tested regularly so any signs of chlamydia can be addressed as soon as possible.

Can you prevent chlamydia?

Practising safe sex is imperative to preventing chlamydia and should be followed by any person who is sexually active.

Your risk of contracting chlamydia increases when you do not use barrier methods of contraception and when you switch to a new sexual partner.

Govind's tips for reducing your risk of chlamydia

  • Use a condom when having vaginal or anal sex.
  • Use a condom or dental dam when having oral sex.
  • Do not share sex toys.
  • Wash sex toys thoroughly before use.
  • Cover sex toys with a condom when using with others.
  • Get STI checks regularly, especially when changing partners.
  • Inform your partners of any changes to your sexual health (and encourage them to get tested too).

Further reading

  1. STD risk and oral sex - CDC fact sheet.
  2. 100 years of STIs in the UK.
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