It’s the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK after chlamydia, but how much do you *really* know about gonorrhoea? An estimated whopping 78 million people worldwide contract the infection every year, say The World Health Organisation, and it mostly affects young men and women under the age of 25.
Gonorrhoea is also making headlines because untreatable “super-bug” strains of the infection are on the rise. If there’s ever a time to be clued up on the NKTs of this STI, it’s now.
Today, Dr Helen Webberley from the online health service mywebdoctor.co.uk answers all our questions on gonorrhoea.
So, what exactly is gonorrhoea?
The sexually transmitted infection gonorrhoea is caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It is more common than people realise and is becoming more of a concern as the bacteria develops resistance to antibiotics.
How is the infection spread?
Gonorrhoea can live in the genitals, anus and throat. It is spread via unprotected sex and can also be transmitted by sharing vibrators or other sex toys that haven't been washed or covered with a new condom each time they're used. To be safe, barrier protection should be used for all sexual contact, be that vaginal, oral or anal.
What are the symptoms?
Frustratingly, many people don’t know they have the infection as the early stages can show no symptoms, yet you can still be infectious. In women, symptoms then include some or all of the following: frequent, painful urination, coloured, foul-smelling discharge, irregular or break-through bleeding and maybe pain during intercourse.
If left untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease which can damage the fallopian tubes and gives an increased chance of ectopic pregnancy and infertility. For men, it can cause discharge from the penis, painful urination, tender, swollen testicles and epididymis, which can also lead to infertility. It is important to note that gonorrhoea can also present as skin rashes or arthritis without causing any genital symptoms at all.
How is it diagnosed and treated?
Gonorrhoea can be easily diagnosed by testing a sample collected via a genital, anal or throat swab or by a urine kit. This can be done either with a home testing kit, available in pharmacy or online from a reputable source. Alternatively you can get tested via your GP, sexual health or GUM clinic. Treatment needs to be given at a specialist clinic due to newly emerging antibiotic resistance. It is important to take a follow up test once the course of treatment has finished to ensure the infection has passed. Furthermore, you should avoid engaging in sexual intercourse until you are free of infection to avoid passing it to your partner. All recent partners should be made aware that they may also carry the infection so that they can take necessary steps.
Can gonorrhoea cause any further problems?
If left untreated, gonorrhoea can cause infertility and chronic pain in the pelvis or testicles. Other risks include arthritis, heart problems and serious eye infections in babies born to mothers with current genital gonorrhoea.
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