Chlamydia trachomatis: impact on human reproduction

Hum Reprod Update. Sep-Oct 1999;5(5):433-47. doi: 10.1093/humupd/5.5.433.


Chlamydia trachomatis infections are the most prevalent bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STI) recognized throughout the world. Worldwide, the magnitude of morbidity associated with sexually transmitted chlamydial infections is enormous. C.trachomatis is a common cause of urethritis and cervicitis, and sequelae include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy, tubal factor infertility, epididymitis, proctitis and reactive arthritis. The sharp worldwide increase in the incidence of PID during the past two decades has led to the secondary epidemics of tubal factor infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Chlamydial PID is the most important preventable cause of infertility and adverse pregnancy outcome. Chlamydial infections, like STI in general, are primarily a woman's health care issue since the manifestations and consequences are more damaging to the reproductive health in women than in men. Based on the available evidence, approximately 20% of women with chlamydial lower genital tract infection will develop PID, approximately 4% develop chronic pelvic pain, 3% infertility, and 2% adverse pregnancy outcome. However, these estimates are based on relatively weak evidence. Research on the link between C.trachomatis and male aspects of infertility has been much more limited. Currently recommended treatment regimens include azithromycin in a single dose or doxycycline for 7 days. These therapies are highly efficacious. Timely management of sex partners is essential for decreasing the risk for re-infection. Immunopathogenesis of C.trachomatis infection is one of the main focal points of current research into Chlamydia. Chlamydial infection fills the general prerequisites for disease prevention by screening, i.e. chlamydial infections are highly prevalent, usually asymptomatic, are associated with significant morbidity, can be reliably diagnosed, and are treatable. Screening programmes for C.trachomatis will be of paramount importance in the prevention of long-term sequelae. The cost of screening is only a fraction of the health care costs incurred due to complications resulting from undiagnosed and untreated chlamydial infections. Current strategies to control C.trachomatis still largely depend on clinic-based screening of symptomatic patients, and have not been successful. The development of highly sensitive and specific nucleic acid amplification tests for the diagnosis of chlamydial infections has been an important advance in the ability to conduct population-based screening programmes to prevent complications. Thus, the case for screening is clearly made, but much detail remains to be worked out.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Azithromycin / therapeutic use
  • Chlamydia Infections / complications*
  • Chlamydia Infections / diagnosis
  • Chlamydia Infections / drug therapy
  • Chlamydia Infections / epidemiology
  • Chlamydia Infections / immunology
  • Chlamydia Infections / prevention & control
  • Chlamydia trachomatis* / immunology
  • Chlamydia trachomatis* / physiology
  • Contact Tracing
  • Doxycycline / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Genital Diseases, Female / complications*
  • Genital Diseases, Female / diagnosis
  • Genital Diseases, Female / drug therapy
  • Genital Diseases, Female / epidemiology
  • Genital Diseases, Female / immunology
  • Genital Diseases, Female / microbiology
  • Genital Diseases, Female / prevention & control
  • Genital Diseases, Male / complications*
  • Genital Diseases, Male / diagnosis
  • Genital Diseases, Male / drug therapy
  • Genital Diseases, Male / epidemiology
  • Genital Diseases, Male / immunology
  • Genital Diseases, Male / microbiology
  • Genital Diseases, Male / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Infertility / etiology*
  • Insemination, Artificial / adverse effects
  • Macaca nemestrina
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease / complications
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / microbiology
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Pregnancy, Ectopic / etiology


  • Azithromycin
  • Doxycycline