What is it?
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. All forms of sex can spread the infection, so it can affect the throat (oral sex) and the rectum (anal sex) as well as the genitals. When infected genital fluid comes in contact with the eyes, infection may also occur. Potentially blinding eye infections can also occur in newborn babies during passage through the birth canal.
What are the symptoms?
In women gonorrhoea usually affects the neck of the womb (the cervix) or the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside (the urethra), or both. In men it most often affects the tube that carries urine out from the bladder (the urethra).
Women are largely asymptomatic with gonorrhoea infection. Symptoms are more common in the male counterparts. However, features suggestive of gonorrhoea in women include:
• A yellowish or greenish vaginal discharge
• Burning pain on urination
• Lower abdominal pain
In men, the following features are common
• Burning pain on urination
• Increased frequency of urination
• Yellowish or greenish fluid or pus coming out of the penis
• Soreness of the testicles and tip of the penis
Throat infection may present with a sore throat, while infection in the rectum may give pain, itching or a discharge.
If gonorrhoea spreads into the bloodstream, a fever and rash may occur, and the joints may become painful.
What treatments work?
Antibiotics are very effective against gonorrhoea infections. Taking an injection together with tablets is usually all the treatment needed. But if infection has spread to other parts of the body you will need to take antibiotics for at least a week.
If you’ve been confirmed to have gonorrhoea, it is very important that your last sex partner, and any other partners you’ve had within the last few months, especially if they are women, get tested for gonorrhoea too. This is because many women have no symptoms and may not know that they could be infected.
What will happen to me?
Untreated gonorrhoea in women can spread upwards to the womb, the fallopian tubes and the ovaries. This can cause the tubes to be blocked over time and make pregnancy difficult. Even when pregnancy is achieved, the infection can cause an ectopic pregnancy. In this case, the fertilised egg gets stuck in the fallopian tube and starts to grow there. This is very dangerous and the pregnancy must be terminated to save the woman.
Untreated gonorrhoea in men can spread to the testicles and prostate causing pain. The urethra, where the infection first affected, may heal with scar formation blocking the flow of urine and causing further infections with possible kidney damage.
However, these problems are rare because men usually treat themselves early as they get symptoms.