Chlamydia is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted diseases in the United States. Thankfully, it’s also curable. But new research suggests that for some people, curing chlamydia doesn’t prevent reinfection, even if they’re not exposed to it again. Apparently the disease can live inside your gut, and reinfect you out of the blue.
Apparently doctors have known that chlamydia can reappear in cured patients for about 80 years, but they’ve been stumped as to how exactly it happens. This study points out that, in many animals, chlamydia has been found to live in the gastrointestinal tract. “Thus, if gastrointestinal infection occurs in most hosts,” the authors write, “then it is very likely that gastrointestinal infection occurs in humans as well.”
The study in question doesn’t actually test this theory on any human beings. Instead it looks at data in animal models about reinfection, and the failure of certain drugs to treat chlamydia when it lives in the gut. From there, they propose that women who are infected with chlamydia could see the same kind of issues: the drugs they’re given might cure the disease genitally, but not gastrointestinally, leaving the bug to live inside waiting for the right time to strike.
Jason Koebler at Motherboad says that earlier studies suggest that women are more likely to see these spontaneously reoccurring infections.
Two things would explain that—treatment failures that could occur because of antibiotic resistance, or reinfection. Rank says that, though treatment failure in chlamydia is rising, in mice studies, antibiotics were much less effective on GI chlamydia than on genital chlamydia. Rank suggests that women suffer self-reinfection at a higher rate than men for the same reason that they are more likely to have urinary tract infections. He says that alternative antibiotics or closer monitoring might be necessary to ensure a patient is cured.
For those who have been treated for chlamydia, it’s probably not time to freak out just yet. Reemergence is rare, and when chlamydia does come back, it’s still treatable. But if they do wind up with a repeat case, it might not be time to blame your partner for cheating just yet. Their guts could be playing tricks on you.