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Gonorrhea

What is gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI); 600,000 new cases are reported in the U.S. each year. Gonorrhea is caused by the bacteria neisseria gonorrhoea and can produce infection in the genitals, rectum and mouth. The most common way of getting gonorrhea is through sexual contact, but babies can contract it from their infected mothers at birth.

How do I know if I have gonorrhea?
Up to 80% of women, and about 25% of men, have no symptoms; many people learn they may have gonorrhea from a partner who’s been diagnosed. Symptoms can appear between one and 30 days after exposure; three to five days is average. These can be similar to other STIs, including:

Men:
• burning or pain before, during or after urination;
• discharge from the penis or anus; and
• tingling or itching sensation inside the penis.

Women:
• burning during urination;
• vaginal or anal discharge;
• pelvic or lower abdominal pain;
• swelling or tenderness of the vulva;
• abnormal menstruation; and
• pain during intercourse.

Rectal infection usually causes no symptoms; however, you might have a mucous discharge from the anus, itching or pain during bowel movements.
Oral infection usually causes no symptoms; however, you could have a mild-to-severe sore throat with fever and chills, and tender, swollen lymph nodes in your neck.

Untreated infections can lead to complications including heart disease, eye damage and arthritis. Gonorrhea makes a person more likely to get another STI, especially HIV, in the future.

For women, there’s an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). A woman with PID may have no symptoms, or have abdominal pain, pain when urinating, odorous vaginal discharge, painful intercourse, fever and a general feeling of illness. Untreated, PID may progress to a generalized infection, leading to sterility.

Men can have painful inflammation of the prostate or testicles; permanent damage or sterility can result.

Newborns can have serious eye damage.

How is gonorrhea diagnosed?
Your provider will take samples of secretions from the penis, vagina, throat or rectum; laboratory cultures will detect the bacteria. A urine test is also available.

How is gonorrhea treated?
Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics; more than one round may be needed. It’s important to complete the full course of antibiotics, even after symptoms disappear, and to return to your health care provider for follow-up examination. To prevent reinfection, your sexual partners should be seen by a clinician, even if they have no symptoms.

Having one or more cases of a particular STI won’t protect you from getting it again; your body doesn’t develop immunity to them. You can be reinfected during treatment or immediately after treatment ends. It’s also possible to have more than one STI at the same time.