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The truth about chlamydia

Did you know you can get an infection, not know you have it, and end up with infertility as a result?


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November 5, 2015

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1.4 million Americans have chlamydia. 67 percent of reported chlamydia cases occur among 15–24 year-olds. Erin Garner, Park Nicollet Women’s Center health navigator, shares the real impact of this all-too-common infection.

My godmother, Nikki, has always been a straight talker. When I was in my early teens, she used to come and stay with my brother and me while my parents were out of town. Nikki was super fun, energetic, and smart. She knew a lot about communicating with young people and always had a fun, relatable way of getting facts to us.

One time, my older brother was going out on a date. As he hurried out the door, Nikki, in her usual playful fashion, called out to him, “Don’t forget, French kissing makes you pregnant.” Now, of course, we knew at this time that French kissing did not make you pregnant, but it could lead to other things that can make you pregnant.

This is not a cautionary tale about the dangers of French kissing, but a reminder that the risks of intimate play are real. While many options are available for preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases are still a significant risk.

Did you know you can get an infection, not know you have it, and end up with infertility as a result? The primary culprit is chlamydia – the most commonly reported STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

While the CDC recommends annual chlamydia testing for all women under 25 (and older women with risk factors), Nancy Gossard, a women’s health nurse practitioner at Park Nicollet Women’s Center, says prevention involves much more than testing and treating. “Prevention involves making the choice to have safer sex by using a condom or being in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.”

“People usually feel horrified when they test positive, but this ends up being a big motivating factor for protecting yourself,” says Julie Halverson, also a women’s health nurse practitioner at the Women's Center. “It’s all about being in the driver’s seat when you’re in the moment and making that choice to protect yourself.”

Chlamydia infections often don’t have symptoms, which is why regular screening is important for women at risk. “Effectively treating chlamydia is an important part of preserving fertility. Our goal is not only to eliminate the symptoms, but also to prevent any unfortunate progression of infection, such as infertility or pelvic inflammatory disease,” adds Sakeena Futrell-Carter, one of the Women’s Center's nurse practitioners.

When a woman is diagnosed with chlamydia, her partner should also be treated to prevent reinfection. At Park Nicollet, we provide partner treatment at the same time we provide treatment for our patients. We can also give you tips on how to talk to your partner, if needed.

So, while French kissing does not make you pregnant, chlamydia can cause serious consequences. In the words of one of my mentors, it’s much better to tell a patient she has chlamydia than tell her she can’t have children. So prevent, screen and treat any STDs as soon as possible.

Chlamydia and STD screening can be done via a simple test at Park Nicollet Women’s Center or any of our Park Nicollet or HealthPartners OB-GYN or primary care clinics in the Twin Cities, Central Minnesota and Western Wisconsin.

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