Can You Get Chlamydia From Smoking?

A type of Chlamydia bacteria links to pneumonia and vaping.

You may already know that chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). But did you know you could have chlamydia in your lungs? 

But the STI does not spread to your lungs. Instead, a different type of Chlamydia bacteria links to pneumonia, Reynold Panettieri, MD, science director of the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine, told Health. 

Here's what you need to know about how and why chlamydia can cause pneumonia, specifically linked to vaping.

How Chlamydia Causes Pneumonia

Three different types of chlamydia can infect humans, which include:

  • Chlamydia trachomatis (C. trachomatis)
  • Chlamydia pneumoniae (C. pneumoniae)
  • Chlamydia psittaci (C. psittaci). 

But the only type of chlamydia is a STI is C. trachomatis. The other two types of bacteria cause pneumonia in humans (though C. psittaci is more often found in birds than humans).

Essentially, those types of bacteria are "in the same sort of family, but are completely different organisms with different methods of transmission," Raymond Casciari, MD, a pulmonologist at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., told Health

Specifically, C. pneumoniae causes illness by damaging the lining of the respiratory tract, including the throat, windpipe, and lungs. Some people with a C. pneumoniae infection develop mild or moderate symptoms. In contrast, others may have severe, full-blown pneumonia symptoms, explained Dr. Panettieri.

However, pneumonia caused by either type of chlamydia is "less common" than other types of pneumonia, added Dr. Panettieri.

How Does C. Pneumoniae Spread?

C. pneumoniae can spread through scattered respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. When someone breathes in those infected droplets, they can get sick. The bacteria can also spread if you touch something that contains the infected droplets and then touch your nose or mouth.

While close contact with an infected person is usually how the bacteria spread, it's also possible to get it from a bad vape cartridge, said Dr. Cascari. 

"The organism can survive in liquid," explained Dr. Cascari. But it's also possible to have C. pneumoniae in your system. Vaping can push the bacteria even lower into your lungs, where it causes a serious infection, added Dr. Cascari.

Symptoms of a C. Pneumoniae Infection

After being infected with C. pneumoniae, symptoms may take up to four weeks to develop. Some of the most common symptoms, which usually last for several weeks, include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade fever
  • Hoarseness or loss of voice
  • Sore throat
  • A slowly worsening cough that can last for weeks or months
  • Headache
  • Ear or sinus infection

Generally, illness ranges from mild to severe. If the infection moves into the lower respiratory tract, it can cause bronchitis or pneumonia.

Complications and Treatment of C. Pneumoniae Infection

Although rare, C. pneumoniae infections can lead to complications like:

  • Worsening asthma
  • Encephalitis, which is swelling in the brain
  • Myocarditis, which is swelling in the heart

Also, in rare cases, C. pneumoniae may cause a chronic infection that can lead to asthma, arthritis, or atherosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessels).

In most cases, people recover fairly easily. Some recover on their own without prescription medicine. But others may require antibiotics.

While it isn't the only cause of C. pneumoniae infections, like smoking, vaping increases your likelihood of getting infections.

How To Reduce Risk of Infection

Since the infection most commonly spreads through coughing and sneezing, practicing good hygiene is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of getting and spreading C. pneumoniae bacteria

Good hygiene practices include the following:

  • Washing your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Throwing used tissues in the garbage
  • Coughing or sneezing into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands, if you don’t have a tissue
  • Using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol (if soap and water are not available), covering all surfaces of your hands, and rubbing them together until they dry
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands

Along with those hygiene tips, stopping (or not starting) vaping can reduce your risk of C. pneumoniae and other infections.

Other Health Risks of Vaping

Along with increasing your chances of contracting a bacterial pneumonia infection, vaping may lead to other health complications, including:

  • Nicotine addiction
  • Lung injury
  • Chronic lung conditions like bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Asthma or worsening asthma
  • Problems with memory and learning in youth
  • May lead to cigarette use
  • Nicotine-associated health conditions, like high blood pressure, heart attack, and heart disease
  • Chemical pneumonia

A Quick Review

There are three different types of chlamydia bacteria, and two of those bacteria may cause pneumonia. Some evidence suggests that C. pneumoniae links to vaping. Still, people can become ill even if they don't use e-cigarettes. 

Good hygiene practices can reduce the chance of being infected with bacteria. Stopping vaping lowers your chances of getting C. pneumoniae infection and many other serious health complications. Consult a healthcare provider if you need help quitting vaping.

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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chlamydia pneumoniae: Causes, how it spreads, and risk factors.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Psittacosis.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chlamydia pneumoniae infection.

  5. Miyashita L, Suri R, Dearing E, et al. E-cigarette vapour enhances pneumococcal adherence to airway epithelial cellsEur Respir J. 2018;51(2):1701592. doi:10.1183/13993003.01592-2017

  6. Becker TD, Rice TR. Youth vaping: a review and update on global epidemiology, physical and behavioral health risks, and clinical considerationsEur J Pediatr. 2022;181(2):453-462. doi:10.1007/s00431-021-04220-x

  7. Silverman AL, Siddique H, Kumar V, Le TH, Ng J. Vaping induced pneumonitis: a small community hospital's case series and analysisBMC Pulm Med. 2020;20(1):118. doi:10.1186/s12890-020-1158-2

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