Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus that can infect both men and women. Gonorrhea, which is also called “the clap” mostly affects the rectum, urethra, or throat. In women, gonorrhea can also infect the cervix.
Even though gonorrhea is spread through sex, babies can be infected during birth if their mothers are infected. In babies, gonorrhea effects are felt on the eyes.
According to the World Health Organization, over 1 million sexually transmitted diseases are acquired every day in the entire world. Cumulatively, around 357 million people are infected with 1 of the 4 main STIs, namely gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.
Most often, gonorrhea infection does not show any symptoms. However, when symptoms appear, the infection may affect several sites in your body, but it commonly appears in the genital tract.
At the same time, when the symptoms appear, they seem different in men compared to women. Gonorrhea symptoms in men include:
- Painful urination
- Pain or swelling in one testicle
- Pus-like discharge from the tip of the penis
- Symptoms in women include:
- Painful urination
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Painful intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding between periods such as after sex
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
Note that the signs and symptoms of gonorrhea may also be observed in other parts of the body. In the rectum, the most common symptoms include anal itching, spots of bright red blood on toilet tissue, pus-like discharge from the rectum, and experiencing strain during bowel movements.
In the eyes (Mostly in babies), gonorrhea causes pain, sensitivity to light, and pus-like discharge from one or both eyes.
Gonorrhea may also affect the throat where you will experience swollen lymph nodes in the neck and sore throat.
It also affects the joints where the affected joints may become red, warm, swollen, and extremely painful, particularly when you move an affected joint.
As mentioned, gonorrhea is caused by bacterium Neisseria gonorrhea that affects the reproductive tract alongside the mucous membranes of the throat, mouth, rectum, and eyes.
The infection is transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected person. The sexual contact may involve the vagina, penis, anus, or mouth. It means that irrespective of your sexual orientation (straight, lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals, etc.), you can get gonorrhea infection if your partner is infected.
Gonorrhea can also be passed from infected mothers to their babies during delivery.
Even though all sexually active people are at risk of gonorrhea, those with the highest rates of infection are young adults and teenagers.
Factors that may increase your risk of gonorrhea include:
- Younger age
- A sex partner with concurrent partners
- A new sex partner
- Multiple sex partners
- Previous gonorrhea diagnosis
- Having other STIs
The doctor will analyze a sample of your body cells to determine whether gonorrhea bacterium is present in your body. The doctor will order for:
- Urine test: It helps identify whether the bacteria is in your urethra or not
- A swab of the affected area: A swab of your urethra, throat, rectum, or vagina may collect bacteria that may be identified in the laboratory
Home test kits are available for women to test themselves if they have the bacterium or not. The kits include vaginal swabs for self-testing that are often sent to a particular lab for testing.
If the tests turn out to be positive for gonorrhea infection, the person and their partner will have to go through the treatment process. It involves:
- Antibiotics: The doctor will most likely inject ceftriaxone and administer an oral medication Azithromycin.
- Abstain from sexual intercourse: It is recommended to complete treatment first before engaging in sex to reduce the chances of complications and spread of infection.
- Repeat testing in some cases: It is not necessary to be tested after completing treatment, but the doctor may recommend it. In such a case, retesting should be performed one week after treatment.
If a pregnant woman is infected, the infant will be given an eye ointment to prevent transmission of the infection. However, the baby may require antibiotics if an eye infection develops after birth.
- Use a condom if you choose to have sex
- Ask your partner to go for STI test before proceeding with intercourse
- Avoid sex with anyone who has any unusual symptoms such as genital rash or sore, or burning during urination.
- Consider regular gonorrhea screening, especially if you usually have sex with more than one partner or had sex with a partner who has/had STI.