The History of Chlamydia

Also known as Chlamydia Trachomatis, this genital infection is known as one of the most common sexually transmitted bacterial infections on a worldwide level. According to the World Health Organization’s Chlamydia statistics (1999), the estimate is set at 92 million and growing.

This is a terrifying number that needs to be reduced as soon as possible. For this reason, many countries implemented Chlamydia controls with the goal to enhance both detection and treatment of the infection. However, in order to do this, we need to know where this infection came from and how it spread so widely among the human population.


Chlamydia is an infection being contracted via infected individuals’ secretions, primarily through sexual contact between people and other species. Interestingly, the discovery of this infection came unintentionally, when three scientists decided to travel to the island of Java to investigate the pathogen that causes syphilis.

The names of these scientists were Neisser, Ludwig Halberstaedter and Stanislaus von Prowazek. Following their journey in 1903, two of the scientists unintentionally discovered Chlamydia four years later with the help of inoculated orangutans.

How did this happen?

Prowazek and Halberstaedter took scrapings from people infected with trachoma, or what they previously believed to be protozoan. Once they got the samples, they infected the eyes of orangutans with them, which demonstrated the spreading of the disease among individuals. However, this caused a lot of confusion since it posed the question of how the disease is spread to newborns without contact.

It was later in the 1960’s that this infection was confirmed to be a bacteria, after the 1929 epidemic of pneumonia and the 1935 definition of Chlamydia as a virus. Knowing that this infection could only pertain in living cells, this is what experts thought at the time.

When scientists discovered that Chlamydia contains both RNA and DNA, they concluded that this is actually a gram-negative bacterium without peptidoglycan. This particular discovery was crucial for the scope, distribution and Chlamydia trends in diagnosis and treatment on a worldwide level.

Chlamydia Specifics

A single cell of Chlamydia is approximately 350nm. This bacteria comes in the shape of coccus and cannot manufacture ATP. For this reason, the infection lives only in a living host, getting the necessary ATP for energy from the specie.

In order to understand the history of Chlamydia, you need to learn about its two developmental stages:

  • The EB or elementary body
  • The RB or reticulate body

The first is the starting stage when the infection occurs in the host. In this stage, the Chlamydia is similar to the state of an endospore and its membrane is resistant to its environment. This allows for the bacteria to live without a host cell. When the EB finds its new host, the cells of this host will engulf it through endocytosis. This is the point where the host is infected with the bacteria.

Once the host is already infected, a vacuole encloses and allows for the bacteria to transition into the non-infectious reticulate inside its cell. Using the cell’s ATP, the bacteria starts to reproduce, while the vacuole prevents the bacteria from being eliminated by the cellular lysosomes.

So, the bacteria divide in the reticulate body and returns to the elementary body form once it is divided. This process continues while the bodies infect other healthy host cells and spread the infection.

Prevalent Areas of Infection

Ever since the beginnings of Chlamydia, the bacteria affect the epithelial cells in humans. This is the spot where the mucous membranous tissues are located, which means that the most prevalent areas of infection are:

  • The urogenital tract
  • The eyes
  • The respiratory tract

Seeing that this is one of the most common sexual transmitted infections, you have probably assumed that the urogenital tract is the most prevalent area of this infection, while the other two are less common. Knowing this, it is time to learn more about the symptoms of this condition.

Symptoms of Chlamydia

The majority of symptoms occur in the period of one to three weeks after the original contact with the infected individual. Still, research shows that the majority of infected patients do not experience any symptoms of this infection. For this reason, the history of Chlamydia shows a huge confusing period before researchers truly understood the bacteria and how it transfers.

Women are the most common victims of this bacteria, which is why we will discuss their symptoms first. In women, Chlamydia’s symptoms include cramps and pain in the lower abdomen, vaginal discharge and burning sensation while urinating. Still, only 20% of all infected women experience these symptoms. The other 80% feel absolutely nothing until the point where the infection spreads and causes pelvic inflammatory disease or in some cases, infertility.

If Chlamydia is left untreated, the fallopian tubes can easily be scarred, which may lead to miscarriage and even death of the woman.

Men can also miss the symptoms of this infection. In the case where these exist, the most common ones are penal discharge, testicular tenderness and painful urination combined with burning or itching. In the long-term, untreated Chlamydia can cause epididymitis, sterility and prostate or rectum inflammation.

The discovery of the disease was mainly based on the fact that Chlamydia can be passed from a mother to her newborn during birth. This infection can come in the form of pneumonia or conjunctivitis and will show in the first ten days of the baby’s life.

Fighting Chlamydia

Fortunately, a new, rapid test was developed to detect this infection in a person. At this point, doctors can use an urinalysis sample or vagina-swabbed sample and check if the patient is infected with the disease. The test is named the Firstburst Test.

Of course, the body will produce antibodies as a reaction to the infection, but these can only inhibit its growth. For this reason, people must take other measures to cure the disease, the most common one being antibiotics’ administration.

As you probably assumed, the only way to avoid contracting the infection is abstinence or using condoms. Also, testing yourself often is the best way to make sure that you are not infected by this horrible bacteria.


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