Gonorrhea is a curable Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). Gonorrhea is caused by a particular type of bacteria and is spread by engaging in unprotected sexual contact with an infected person.
WHAT IS IT?
Gonorrhea (pronounced GON-ah-REE-uh) is an infection caused by the bacteria Neiseria gonorrhoeae. The first case of gonorrhea was reported in 1879, and so it is considered to be the oldest STI on record. Currently, about 650,000 people get gonorrhea each year in the United States.
HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED?
Gonorrhea is transmitted through unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex with an infected person.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Many people who have gonorrhea are asymptomatic (they have no symptoms). This is true for most women and some men. Even if there are no symptoms (outward signs of sickness), the infection may still be harming the body and can still be passed to others.
If symptoms do appear, they usually show up 2-10 days after having sex.
Symptoms for women include:
o Unusually heavy vaginal discharge
o Burning/pain during urination
o Bleeding between periods
o Cramping and pain in the lower abdomen
Symptoms for men include:
o Thick yellow or white drip from the penis
o Pain or burning during urination
o If infection is in the throat: sore throat that doesn’t go away
If infection is in the throat:
o Sore throat that doesn’t go away
If infection is in the rectum:
o Anal itchiness
o Painful bowel movements
Testing by a health care professional is the only way to be sure that a person has gonorrhea.
When a person is tested for gonorrhea, a clinician will use a cottonswab to gather cells from the cervix (for women) or the urethra (for men). The test is quick and causes little discomfort. The cells are sent to a lab for culture.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics, which can be given in an injection or taken orally (by mouth). If the person with gonorrhea properly follows all the instructions given by the health care provider, the infection will go away, unless it is a resistant strain of the bacteria. Some clinicians will instruct the person being treated for gonorrhea to come back for retesting after the medication is finished. It is important to know that a person can get gonorrhea again if they continue to engage in the behaviors that put them at risk. All partners of anyone with gonorrhea must be tested for it and treated if necessary. During treatment, a couple must not engage in unprotected intercourse.
If someone with gonorrhea does not get proper treatment:
o They may give gonorrhea to their sexual partner(s)
o A more serious infection can occur, damaging the reproductive organs
o They may become unable to have children
o It may be passed from a mother to her baby during childbirth, possibly causing blindness.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF FROM IT?
A person can reduce their risk of gonorrhea by:
o Practicing abstinence – not engaging in oral, anal, or vaginal sex
o Having sex only with an uninfected person who is not having sex with anyone else
o Using a condom or latex barrier for every act of intercourse – oral, anal, and vaginal
o Limiting the number of people with whom they are having sex
o Getting tested for STIs regularly
o Communicating with their partners about their sexual histories, including testing for and treatment of STIs.