What is Gonorrhoea?
Gonorrhoea, sometimes referred to as ‘the clap’, is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting the disease, especially if you frequently change sexual partners or don’t use a barrier method of contraception, such as a condom.
Gonorrhoea is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK, second only to chlamydia. Whilst you can catch the infection at any age, it is most commonly seen in those under the age of 25 years old.
What causes Gonorrhoea?
The bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae causes the infection. It thrives in the warm, moist areas of the reproductive tract in women, and in the tube that carries urine from the bladder in both men and women.
The most common method of spreading the infection is through oral, anal or vaginal intercourse. It is possible for a pregnant woman to pass the infection to her new-born during childbirth. In cases such as this, it is essential that the baby is treated with antibiotics immediately as there is a risk of severe and permanent damage to their vision.
What are the symptoms of Gonorrhoea?
Symptoms will usually become apparent within two weeks of becoming infected, although it can take many months for them to become obvious. In 10% of males and 50% of females however, there may be no symptoms at all. Some possible symptoms include: A burning sensation or pain when urinating, thick green or yellow discharge from the tip of the penis or vagina (but it can also be white and watery), women may experience bleeding between periods and men may experience swelling of the foreskin.
Although less common, gonorrhoea may present in females with pain in the lower abdomen, or tenderness of the testicles in males. Infection can also be spread to the eyes or rectum, where pain, discomfort and discharge are typical presentations. It may also affect the throat, but this usually causes no noticeable symptoms.
Complications of a long term infection also exist. In men this can lead to redused fertility, although this rare. If left untreated in women, the infection can spread to the reproductive organs and result in pelvic inflammatory disease, which in turn can lead to pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancies and infertility.
How is Gonorrhoea treated?
Treatment for gonorrhoea is straightforward, with a simple antibiotic injection and tablet usually being sufficient to eradicate the infection. It’s highly recommended that you receive treatment if it’s likely that you or your partner has gonorrhoea, even if your urine or swab test has not yet come back showing that you definitely have the condition.
The symptoms will begin to subside over the course of a few days, and any bleeding between periods you might have experienced should improve. It is important that you refrain from sexual contact until you have been cleared, as this helps prevent spreading the infection further.
Due to the ease with which this infection is spread through sexual contact, if you are diagnosed with gonorrhoea it is possible that your partner and any recent sexual partners also have it. It is important that they get tested and treated appropriately, and your local sexual health or genitourinary medicine clinic may be able to help notify your previous partners whilst ensuring your identity remains anonymous.