Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, if untreated, may lead to serious health complications such as arthritis, meningitis, urogenital tract infection, or infertility. It is commonly called ‘’the clap’’, which both men and women can become victims too. Symptoms of gonorrhea may vary from man to woman, whereas some individuals may have gonorrhea without any obvious symptoms.
What is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that is often spread by sexual means. It is also called “the clap” or “drip” and it is one of the most commonly spread Sexually Transmitted diseases (STD) in the world. Having sex or sexual contact with a person infected with gonorrhea can cause the spread of the disease. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that gonorrhea is the second most commonly spread STDs in the United States and it also recommends that all patients with gonorrheal infection should also be treated for assumed co-infection with Chlamydia trachomatis.
What is an STI?
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) are primarily spread by sexual contact, which includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Some infections can also be spread through non-sexual means like via blood products or blood contact. Various STIs such as HIV, Hepatitis B, syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, and HPV may also get transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth.
Some common symptoms of STIs include an unusual vaginal discharge or discharge from the penis or anus, pain while peeing, abdominal pain, and burning in men. The disease can also occur without showing any symptoms in a few persons, which can be diagnosed with some proper tests.
What causes Gonorrhea?
This STI comes from a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae and it’s mainly spread through sex and blood. One can get gonorrhea from any form of sexual contact including:
- Anal sex
- Vaginal intercourse
- Oral intercourse
If a person comes into contact with the vagina, penis, mouth, or anus of anyone who is infected with gonorrhea, the bacteria could easily get transmitted.
The other means of spread include direct or indirect contact with the blood of an infected person and from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy and childbirth. Women who are infected with gonorrhea can pass it to their children during vaginal delivery. A C-section will not certainly spread this disease from mother to child.
The commonly asked questions regarding the transmission of gonorrhea are,
- “Does gonorrhea spread without ejaculation?” and the answer is yes. A man does not have to necessarily ejaculate to spread the bacteria. Any form of sexual or blood contact will be sufficient for the spread of gonorrheal infection.
- “Can we get gonorrhea from public toilets and common places?” -The bacteria need a human or an animal body to live. These germs cannot live very long outside the body, so touching objects like toilet seats, handles, toilet papers, or clothes will not largely transmit the infection.
- “Can gonorrhea be transmitted by animals?”– Most STDs are spreadable by animals. Another STD, Syphilis, came to humans from animals like cattle and sheep many centuries ago, possibly sexually.
Are you aware of the symptoms of Gonorrhea?
The bacteria tend to live in warm, moist parts of the body, such as:
- female reproductive tract (cervix, uterus, and the fallopian tube)
Symptoms of gonorrhea are usually shown within 2 to 14 days after infection or exposure to the bacteria. However, few infected persons may develop the infection without any noticeable symptoms. Although the symptoms of this disease are largely similar for both men and women, few symptoms vary from man to woman.
Gonorrhea symptoms in men
Generally, persons with penises are likely to develop symptoms within a week after the transmission. The spread occurs due to unprotected sex, direct sexual contact, or through other means of blood or blood products. In some cases, people may not find any symptoms or have very mild signs of infection. It’s always suggested to take a test or consult a doctor when a person finds any mild symptoms.
The common symptoms of gonorrhea in men include:
- Itching in or around the genital (penis)
- Yellow, green, or white discharge from the penis
- Discharge from the anus
- Pain and burning sensation during discretion
- Pain during intercourse
- Abdominal pain (in few cases)
- Pain or swelling in testicles
Gonorrhea symptoms in women
The most common symptoms of gonorrhea in women include:
- An unusual discharge from the vagina (which may be white, yellow, or green in color)
- Pain or burning sensation while urinating
- Bleeding between periods or heavy bleeding during periods
- Bleeding after or during sex and pain during sex
- Pain or tenderness in the lower abdomen (in few cases)
Since gonorrhea is a bacterial infection, if fluids like semen or vaginal liquid which contain the bacteria enter the eyes, it can develop conjunctivitis, otherwise called “pinkeye”. Gonorrhea can also target the anus, if a person has anal sex or can get the infection from another part of the body to the anus or rectum, possibly by wiping or touching. Gonorrhea infections can also occur in the throat with mild symptoms like sore throat and pain in the throat if had unprotected oral sex.
Gonorrhea symptoms in babies
The gonorrheal infection can be transmitted from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy or childbirth. Symptoms in newborn babies are normally shown in the eyes in the first two weeks. The common symptoms of gonorrhea in babies are red or swollen eyes and a thick or pus-like discharge from the genitals.
Consuming antibiotics during pregnancy or breastfeeding may prevent the further development of the infection and can be cured. Consuming antibiotics will not harm the child of an infected mother during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Testing for gonorrhea
There are multiple ways to test the infection of gonorrhea or other STIs. In most cases, urine samples are collected from both men and women to test for the infection. However, a swab may be used to collect samples from the throat or rectum, if a person had oral or anal sex with an infected person. In a few cases, swabs can be used to take a sample from the urethra (for men) or the vaginal cavity or cervix, or the urethra (for women) during an internal examination usually done by a doctor or a nurse to diagnose gonorrheal infection.
One can get a gonorrhea test kit from a nearby pharmacy. But it’s recommended to get the test done by a specialist or a medical professional in a clinic or a local sexual health clinic.
When to test for gonorrhea?
The best way to find out if a person is infected is to get tested. If you find any symptom of gonorrhea or any other sexually transmitted disease (STD), it’s highly advisable not to postpone or delay the test. However, a person can get tested right after having sex or a few days after the sex, but it’s preferred to wait up to a week. An asymptomatic person, suspecting gonorrhea can also get tested for the infection.
Early testing and diagnosis of gonorrhea can prevent further development of complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or infection in the testicle or rectum. Problems and health-related complications that result from long-term infections are difficult to treat.
Who should get tested?
It’s advised to go for a gonorrhea test if,
- A person having sex or any sexual contact with another person who has an STI
- A person having unprotected sex with a new partner
- Anyone who has multiple sex partners
- A person who has another STI
- A woman who is pregnant or planning to have a baby
- A person who had direct blood contact with an infected person
- Anyone who is exposed to the blood or blood products of an infected person
Treatment for Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea can be completely cured with the right medication and antibiotics. However if left untreated, it may lead to some serious health issues including infertility. According to the CDC, a single dose of 500 mg of intramuscular ceftriaxone (1000 mg for patients weighing more than or equal to 150 kg) can be used to treat the infection.
Alternative systematic plans may be followed when ceftriaxone cannot be used to treat infections like urogenital or rectal gonorrhea. The antibiotic azithromycin can be used as a precaution against another possible STD, which is Chlamydia. However the consumption of antibiotics may stop the further growth of the infection, but it will not completely cure or repair any permanent damage caused by the infection. One must also make sure that the medication for gonorrhea should not be shared with anyone.
As re-infection is common in a few cases, a test-of-cure is recommended 7-14 days after the treatment. If a person continues to have symptoms of an STD even after the course of treatment, it is advisable to consult a health care provider at the earliest to be re-evaluated. It may usually take up to 2 weeks for any pain or irritation in the pelvic area or testicles to completely vanish.
Post-treatment, the infected person and their partner should wait for at least a week to resume their sexual activity as there are chances for the infection to re-develop. It is advised to indulge in sexual life after ensuring that the infection is completely cured in both the partners and to follow safety precautions if a person comes into sexual contact with their infected partner.
“Can I get HIV if I’m infected with gonorrhea?” – Having an STI, generally increases the risk of getting HIV. If a person has both HIV and gonorrhea, their viral load is likely to increase than imagined. This will cause the person to pass on the dangerous infection, HIV if indulged in sexual activity without protection, even if he/she is under treatment for the infection. Also, it is recommended to consult the doctor if a person is already under the treatment of an STD like gonorrhea, as that might interact with the HIV drugs and medications.
“Is gonorrhea completely curable?” – Yes, gonorrhea is completely curable with the right medication and early detection of the infection. However, medicines cannot completely repair or undo a few permanent damages caused by the disease.
How can we prevent gonorrheal infection?
Usage of male or female condoms or dental dams whenever having vaginal, oral, or anal sex is an effective way to prevent transmission. Sharing a sex toy can also spread the infection. So always cover sex toys with a new or unused condom and clean them before and after use to avoid the risk of gonorrheal infection and other STIs.
It is important to note that contraceptive pills or any other forms of contraceptive measures other than condoms will not prevent the spread of gonorrhea.
A person who has an active sex life or multiple sex partners should always use condoms or other safety precautions and should test for gonorrhea or other STIs frequently. Delay in testing may lead to severe health complications and permanent damages.
It is advisable for pregnant women to test for gonorrhea or other STIs to prevent the transmission of the disease to their children. Infected pregnant women can easily spread the infection to the eyes of the newborn baby.
A proper test or diagnosis at a health care center or usage of a gonorrhea test kit which can be bought from a nearby pharmacy can help to find out the transmission of the disease. However, it is suggested to get the test performed by a relevant doctor or a nurse in a clinic or a sexual health care center.
Important facts about gonorrhea
- One in five Americans is suspected of gonorrhea or any other STI including Chlamydia or syphilis.
- The STI rate in the United States hit a record for the 6th consecutive year.
- Most people who are affected by an STI are aged between 18 to 25 years.
- Gonorrhea infection can spread from one part to another part that is already infected with any virus/bacteria.
- Newborn babies can get infected by gonorrhea from their mothers during childbirth and the most affected part is the eyes in babies.
- Gonorrhea and other related STIs can also be transmitted by oral and anal sex and the infection will target the throat, rectum, and anus, if having sex without a condom.
- A person with an STI has a high risk of getting HIV or another STI.
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