Gonorrhoea is a common sexually transmissible infection (STI) caused by a bacteria. You can get it by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex (sex without a condom) with a person who is infected.
Gonorrhoea can affect both men and women and can occur in the cervix, penis, anus or throat.
Many people will not have any symptoms so they may not know they have gonorrhoea. But they can still get health problems and also pass the infection on through unprotected sex.
When symptoms do occur in women they may notice an unusual vaginal discharge, a burning feeling when peeing, bleeding in-between periods or after sex, or pains in the lower abdomen. These symptoms may go away without treatment – but health problems can still occur later on.
Men may notice a whitish-yellow or watery discharge from the penis, a burning feeling when peeing, irritation or itching around the eye of the penis or painful, swollen epididymis or testicles (balls).
Most anal infections also do not cause symptoms but some people notice pain or discharge. Infection in the throat does not cause any symptoms.
Other problems it can cause
If gonorrhoea is untreated in men it can lead to swelling and pain in the epididymis or testicles (balls) which can lead to infertility.
If gonorrhoea is untreated in women, the infection can spread up into the uterus (womb / baby bag), fallopian tubes, and other parts of the lower abdomen. This is known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This can be painful and women may be quite sick and need to be admitted to hospital. PID can damage the tubes from the uterus to the ovaries which can lead to infertility.
If a woman with damaged tubes gets pregnant, this pregnancy may be ectopic, or outside the uterus. Ectopic pregnancies are a medical emergency and usually require an operation. Infertility or ectopic pregnancy can even happen without the woman knowing that she had gonorrhoea in the past.
Babies born to mothers with untreated gonorrhoea can develop severe eye infections which can lead to blindness.
Having gonorrhoea can make it easier for a person to become infected with HIV or to pass HIV on to someone else.
If a discharge is present in men then a swab will be taken from the penis. A urine sample can also be used to test for these infections in men.
In women, the best way to test for gonorrhoea is to take a swab from the cervix. Women can also take a swab themselves from their vagina.
Swabs may also be taken from the anus and where indicated, from the throat.
In most areas of the Northern Territory gonorrhoea is easily treated with a single dose combination of oral antibiotics. However in Darwin and many other parts of Australia, gonorrhoea is treated with a single dose combination of antibiotics of which one is usually given by injection.
Other considerations when giving treatment:
- women with PID or men with infection in the testes will need a longer course of treatment
- sexual partners from the last 3 months need to be contacted so they can also be tested and treated
- occasionally a second course of antibiotics is needed if symptoms do not go away or a resistant strain of gonorrhea is found.
For more information contact the Centre for Disease Control's Clinic 34.
Last updated: 20 March 2020
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