Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacterium.
Causes of Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea is spread through sexual contact (vaginal, oral, or anal). The organism can grow easily in mucous membranes of the body, including the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes in women, and the urethra, mouth, throat, and rectum in women and men. It can also invade the conjunctiva (the area between the eyelid and eyeball; during childbirth, for example).
Each year approximately 700,000 persons in the United States get gonorrhea.
Who is at risk for gonorrhea?
Any sexually active person can be infected with gonorrhea. In the United States, the highest reported rates of infection are among sexually active teenagers, young adults, and African Americans.
About 50 percent of men have some initial symptoms, typically a burning sensation when urinating and a discharge from the penis. Many infected women are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms. Initial symptoms include a painful or burning sensation when urinating and a vaginal discharge that is yellow or bloody.
Untreated gonorrhea in women can develop into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause infertility or increase the future risk of ectopic pregnancy. An infected pregnant woman can transmit the infection to her newborn during vaginal delivery.
N. gonorrhoeae in the male or female genital tract can be diagnosed in a laboratory using a urine specimen, or by collecting swab specimens from endocervix, vagina or other possible infected area.
What is the Treatment for Gonorrhea?
Antibiotics can successfully cure gonorrhea in adolescents and adults. However, drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are increasing in many areas of the world, including the United States, and successful treatment of gonorrhea is becoming more difficult.
CDC now recommends dual therapy (i.e. using two drugs) for the treatment of gonorrhea. Persons with gonorrhea should be tested for other STDs.
It is important to take all of the medication prescribed to cure gonorrhea. Although medication will stop the infection, it will not repair any permanent damage done by the disease.
People who have had gonorrhea and have been treated can get the disease again if they have sexual contact with persons infected with gonorrhea. If a person’s symptoms continue even after receiving treatment, he or she should return to a doctor to be reevaluated.
Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent health problems in both women and men, such as pelvic inflammatory disease in women that can lead to infertility if untreated. In men, gonorrhea can cause epididymitis, a painful condition of the ducts attached to the testicles that may lead to infertility if left untreated.
Gonorrhea can spread to the blood or joints. This condition can be life threatening.
How can gonorrhea be prevented?
The surest way to avoid transmission of STDs is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.
Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of transmission of gonorrhea.
Any genital symptoms such as discharge or burning during urination or unusual sore or rash should be a signal to stop having sex and to see a doctor immediately.
If a person has been diagnosed and treated for gonorrhea, he or she should notify all recent sex partners so they can see a health care provider and be treated. This will reduce the risk that the sex partners will develop serious complications from gonorrhea and will also reduce the person’s risk of becoming re-infected.
The person and all of his or her sex partners must avoid sex until they have completed their treatment for gonorrhea and until they and their sex partners no longer have symptoms.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Apr 5, 2011). http://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/STDFact-gonorrhea.htm
Hook, E. W., III, and Handsfield, H. H. (1999). “Gonococcal Infections in the Adult.” In Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 3rd edition, eds. K. Holmes, P. Mardh, P. Sparling et al. New York: McGraw-Hill.
“Gonorrhea: Including Symptoms & Treatment -2011, http://www.avert.org/gonorrhea.htm