What is Gonorrhoea?

By  Youth Projects     |    Updated: 25th April, 2017    |    5 min read

Gon-ah-ree-ah (bacteria)

What is Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is caused by a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrheae. It’s a pretty tough bug that’s resistant to some antibiotics. Fortunately in Australia, we can test for resistance to medication and give the best antibiotic available to kill the bug that causes gonorrhoea infection.

Gonorrhoea usually affects the genital area but can also cause infections of the throat or anus.

Like any infection, Gonorrhoea can spread quickly in a community if it goes undetected and untreated. In Victoria, most cases of gonorrhoea are seen in men who have sex with men (MSM). Whilst men can experience acute symptoms, what’s most concerning is the fact that if infected with Gonorrhoea, you are at much greater risk of HIV transmission.

This is true for women also and although Gonorrhoea in females is less common, it can still have other serious health effects including an increased risk of infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

How do you get Gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is passed from person to person during unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. In addition to this, it is possible for the baby of a mother with gonorrhoea, to be infected at birth.

Gonorrhoea Signs and symptoms

As with some other STIs, there may be no symptoms at all so you may not know you have the infection. So Gonorrhoea can cause damage without you even knowing you have it. This is why it’s important for both men and women to get regular sexual health checks.

Gonorrhoea in women

In women, Gonorrhoea can cause infection of the cervix, the pharynx or the rectum. Rarely, the Gonorrhoea bacteria can travel into the blood stream and cause infection away from your genitals, such as in your joints or in your liver.

women with an acute infection of Gonorrhoea may have the following symptoms:

  • Vaginal discharge: green or yellowish in colour or just different from normal.
  • Pain when urinating, due to infection of the urethra.
  • Urinating more often than usual.
  • Sore throat, due to infection of the pharynx.
  • Sore or itchy anus/rectum.
  • Pain in the lower abdomen.
  • Discharge and /or blood in faeces, due to infection of the anus/rectum.

women with a chronic infection of Gonorrhoea may have the following symptoms:

  • Chronic inflammation, pain and scarring of the female reproductive organs. (known as PID)
  • Infertility, due to scarring damage of the fallopian tubes.
  • Ectopic Pregnancy. (Rare)

A women with Gonorrhoea can pass the infection on to her new born during birth. This can cause a serious infection of the baby’s eyes which may require intravenous antibiotics. Being tested and treated for Gonorrhoea can prevent women from passing it on to their newborn.

Gonorrhoea in men

In men, Gonorrhoea usually affects the lining of the urethra, the tube in the penis that urine and cum pass through. Infection of the urethra is called urethritis.

men with an acute infection of Gonorrhoea may have the following symptoms:

  • Burning, stinging or pain when urinating.
  • Sore throat (Though Gonorrhoea infection of the throat can also be without symptoms).
  • White or yellow pus-like discharge from the tip of the penis, coming from the end of the urethra.
  • Sore or itchy anus.
  • Swelling and pain of the testicles. (If the infection is treated early this is less likely to happen).
  • Blood or other discharge from the anus. (Anal infection may also be without symptoms).

IMPORTANT NOTE: In men, Gonorrhoea is more likely to cause obvious symptoms than Chlamydia.

How do you prevent getting Gonorrhoea?

The regular use of condoms and dams during vaginal, anal and oral sex will greatly decrease your risk of getting Gonorrhoea. And be careful not to get any sexual fluids, like cum or vaginal discharge, on your hands when putting on the condom or dam. This is because the Gonorrhoea bacteria may get on the outside of the condom or dam meaning an infection can still be passed on.

How do you find out if you have Gonorrhoea?

IMPORTANT NOTE: Gonorrhoea cannot be diagnosed by a blood test.

Gonorrhoea in women is detected by:

  • Urine test.
  • Swab from the cervix or vagina.*
  • Throat or Anal swab.

Gonorrhoea in men is detected by:

  • Urine test.
  • Swab from the urethra*
  • Throat and / or anal swab.

*Swabs are used to look at the Gonorrhoea bugs under a microscope. When possible, the bugs are checked to see what particular antibiotics will be best to get rid of the infection.

How do you get treated for Gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea can be easily treated with a specific antibiotic and is usually given in a single, high dose by injection. It is also possible to have oral antibiotics (tablets you swallow).

The most commonly used antibiotic is Ceftriaxone given by injection. Other drugs are available if you are allergic to it or if the particular type of gonorrhoea you have is resistant.

The regular use of condoms and dams during vaginal, anal and oral sex will greatly decrease your risk of getting Gonorrhoea.

Many of the new strains of gonorrhoea that are resistant come from overseas so it’s important to inform your doctor if your infection could have been picked up outside Australia. You should avoid sex until treatment is finished, and make sure that your sexual partner(s) are tested and that they are treated as well.

Sometimes a follow up test is done 5 -10 days after your treatment has finished to check that the Gonorrhoea has been killed off.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If your likelihood of having Gonorrhoea is very high, your doctor may want to treat you before your test results come back.

Also check the related topics:  

Types of STI’s Sex & Sexual Health

Factsheet provided by Youth Projects


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