Antibiotic treatment for chlamydia, the most common sexually transmitted disease in the UK, will be sold over the counter in pharmacies from October.
A single dose of antibiotics will be available to people over the age of 16 who test positive for chlamydia, and for their partners.
What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is an infection caused by bacteria. It’s easily passed on from person to person during sex.
Chlamydia can usually be cured with just one dose of antibiotics. Unfortunately, people often don’t get treatment, because they don’t realise they’re infected. More than half the people who get chlamydia don’t have any symptoms.
If chlamydia is left untreated for a long time, it can cause serious health problems. It’s particularly important for women to get treatment, as chlamydia can cause infertility.
How can I get tested and treated at present?
Chlamydia testing is currently available to all age groups from GPs and sexual health clinics (often called genitourinary medicine clinics, or GUM clinics).
The NHS is trying to make testing more widely available, especially for younger people who are most at risk. So free testing for chlamydia is also offered to under-25s by some pharmacies, youth clubs, universities and family planning clinics, as part of a special screening programme.
A test for chlamydia usually involves giving a urine sample, which is sent away to a laboratory. If the results show you have the infection, you’ll be given antibiotics to get rid of it.
What about the new scheme?
The UK’s drug safety watchdog has now decided that the antibiotic azithromycin can be sold over the counter to treat chlamydia. So, from the end of October, you’ll also be able to buy a chlamydia test kit in addition to any necessary treatment, without a prescription, from some pharmacies. The new scheme is available to anyone over 16.
Free testing will still be available for all age groups at GUM clinics and GPs’ surgeries, and also in pharmacies as part of the special screening programme for under-25s.
How will it work?
The antibiotic, sold under the brand name Clamelle, will only be available to people who test positive for chlamydia, and their sexual partners.
You’ll be able to buy a chlamydia test kit, also called Clamelle, from pharmacies for £25. The kit includes a container, which you fill with urine and send off to a laboratory. The test results are then sent back to you in the post.
If the test shows you have chlamydia, you’ll be able to buy the antibiotic direct from a pharmacy, without a prescription. Pharmacists will be able to check your test results electronically to make sure you’re getting the right treatment.
Of course, you still have the option of getting a prescription for antibiotic treatment from your GP or from a sexual health clinic.
The Clamelle treatment costs £20. This compares to a standard NHS prescription charge of £7.10 in England and £5 in Scotland. Prescriptions in Wales are free. Prescriptions for chlamydia treatment are free on the NHS for anyone under 25.
The new Clamelle test kit and treatment is aimed at people over 16 who may have chlamydia but who have no symptoms. If you have symptoms of chlamydia, such as discharge from your penis or vagina, itching or abdominal pain, you should see a doctor. You should also see a doctor if you want to be tested for chlamydia and you are pregnant, or think you could be.
Under the new scheme, along with the test results, you’ll also be sent notification slips that you can send on to any recent sexual partners. Partners can see their doctor if they wish, but they can also use the notification slip to buy Clamelle from a pharmacist, without needing a test.
What’s in the medicine?
Clamelle is a brand name for azithromycin, an antibiotic that’s already used to treat chlamydia. The only difference is that it will now be available without a prescription.
You’ll need to wait seven days after treatment before having sex again. If you have a partner, they’ll have to get treatment too, or you could re-infect each other.
Azithromycin doesn’t cause many side effects. The most common problems are feeling sick, getting diarrhoea or having stomach pain. Less than 1 in 10 people get these problems. Some people have an allergic reaction to the drug, but this is rare.
What does this mean for me?
If you think you might have chlamydia, or just want testing to be on the safe side, you now have another option to choose from. It’s worth remembering that getting tested and buying treatment over the counter may not be the cheapest option. But you may prefer it for convenience. You might also consider it if you’re over 25, so not eligible for the NHS screening programme, and you don’t want to visit a doctor.
Many people find the most difficult part of being diagnosed with chlamydia is informing any recent sexual partners. Under the new scheme, pharmacists will be trained to offer advice. If you’re being treated at a sexual health clinic or with the NHS screening programme, the staff there will be able to help you. They may even be able to contact people for you, without using your name.