What is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year there are about 820,000 new cases of people in the United States infected by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium bacteria can infect the mucous membrane in the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, and the mouth, throat, eyes and rectum.
The CDC estimates 570,000 new cases occur in people aged 15 to 24.Read More
How does Gonorrhea Spread?
Gonorrhea is spread through sexual contact; this means contact with the penis, vagina, mouth or anus. The bacteria is in the mucus membrane and spread through semen, pre-cum and vaginal fluids. Therefore, ejaculation doesn’t have to occur for gonorrhea to spread or be acquired.
Gonorrhea can be passed without full penetration in the vagina or anus. Babies can become infected from an infected mother. Gonorrhea cannot be spread through casual contact such as sharing of food, drinks, kissing, hugging, coughing, or from sitting on toilet seats.
Who’s at Risk?
Anyone sexually active is at risk. According to the CDC, the highest reported rates of gonorrhea infections are among teenagers, young adults and African Americans. The World Health Organization (WHO) attributes an increase in infection rates to decreased condom use, the growth of urbanization, poor infection detection, and inadequate and failed treatments.
By the Numbers
• Highest infected demographic: Ages 15-24.
• Rate of reported gonorrhea cases among males was higher than females in 2016.
• The South United States had the highest reported rates of gonorrhea in 2016.
Symptoms of gonorrhea are different in men and women. Both men and women may not have any at all, so it is important to get tested regularly if you are sexually active. When men do get symptoms, they include:
• Burning sensation when urinating.
• White, yellow or green discharge from the penis.
• Painful or swollen testicles.
Symptoms in women can be misdiagnosed as a bladder infection. Undiagnosed gonorrhea can result in serious complications for women. Gonorrhea symptoms for women include:
• Painful or burning sensation when urinating.
• Increase in vaginal discharge.
• Bleeding between periods.
Common symptoms in men and women that can occur in an infected rectum:
• Anal itching.
• Painful bowel movements.
Gonorrhea shares signs with STDS such as chlamydia, so get tested for other STDS. Many healthcare professionals run more than one test even if you don’t ask.
Gonorrhea is treatable. The CDC recommends dual therapy: a single dose of 250mg intramuscular ceftriaxone and 1g of oral azithromycin. Being treated for gonorrhea does not make you immune to reinfection or repair permanent damage. Unfortunately treating gonorrhea is becoming harder because new strains are developing that are immune to current treatments. Tell your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away after a few days. The CDC recommends you wait at least seven days after treatment before becoming sexually active again.
New WHO data from 77 countries shows that antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is continuing to rise.
WHO says the number of cases of antibiotic-resistant strains could be higher than reported because of a lack of STD diagnosing resources in low-income countries where gonorrhea is more common. It is estimated that worldwide 78 million people are infected.
Women are more at risk than men of developing serious and permanent complications, including:
• Pelvic inflammatory disease: PID is an infection that occurs in a woman’s reproductive organs. Symptoms are the same as for gonorrhea. If untreated, PID can damage the reproductive system. One in eight women with a history of PID have difficulties getting pregnant.
Other complications of PID are the same as those associated with gonorrhea:
• Scar tissue blocking the fallopian tubes.
• Ectopic pregnancy.
• Long-term pelvic or abdominal pain.
• Increased chances of HIV.
If you are sexually active, get tested regularly for STDs not just when you suspect you have symptoms. In order to check for gonorrhea, your doctor will take a urine sample or a sample of discharge from the urethra, vagina or anus and, in some cases, an oral or anal swab. The CDC recommends that sexually active gay or bisexual men, and sexually active women under 25 with multiple partners, get tested for gonorrhea every year. STD testing is separate from a gynecological exam and must be requested.
There is no guaranteed way to prevent gonorrhea if you are sexually active, but safe sex practices can lower your risk:
• Use a condom every time you have sex.
• Use a dental dam, although rare gonorrhea can spread through the mouth.
• Have sex with one partner who has been tested negative for STDs.
• Ask new partners to get tested before becoming sexually involved.
• Safer sexual behavior.
• Information, education.
• Recognize symptoms to prevent spreading STDs.