What is Gonorrhoea?
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoea (gonococcus). Gonorrhoea is the fastest growing STI in Ireland, there has been a 33% increase in identifications since 2013 and 79% of the 1293 identifications reported in 2013 were in men according to the health protection surveillance centre.
Causes of Gonorrhoea
The bacteria are mainly found in discharge from the penis and in vaginal fluid of infected people, however it can also be in the rectum or throat. The bacteria is easily passed between people through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex and through sharing vibrators or other sex toys that haven't been washed and covered with a new condom each time they are used. Penatrative sex does not necessarily have to occur to pass on the infection, gential contact with an infected person can be enough to transmit the disease. Gonorrhoea can also affect the urethra (tube that carried urine out of the body), the rectum, eyes or throat.
Symptoms of Gonorrhoea
Like other STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea is often asymptomatic which means you may not have any physical symptoms and it can therefore be passed on without either partner realising they have it. Therefore it is important to get tested if you have had unprotected sex or think you may have been exposed to an STI.
Symptoms in men include:
- An unusual discharge from the tip of the penis, which may be white, yellow or green
- Pain or a burning sensation when urinating
- Inflammation (swelling) of the foreskin
- Pain or tenderness in the testicles (this is rare)
If gonorrhoea is left untreated then it can lead to serious complications:
- Pain and inflammation of the testicles and prostate gland, which can lead to reduced fertility.
- In rare cases, when gonorrhoea has been left untreated it can spread through the bloodstream to cause infections in other parts of your body. This includes:
- Inflammation and swelling of the joints and tendons
- Skin irritation and redness
- Inflammation around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or the heart, which can be life threatening
Treatment of Gonorrhoea
In most cases, treatment will involve having a single antibiotic injection (usually in the buttocks or thigh) followed by a single dose of an antibiotic, usually azithromycin. If you have tested positive for gonorrhoea it is also likely you may have chlamydia so you will normally be given the additional antibiotic tablets to treat this infection.
If you have any physical symptoms of gonorrhoea, these will usually improve within a few days of receiving treatment. If they do not please ensure you go back to the sexual health clinic straight away. If your symptoms resolve, a follow up appointment two weeks after treatment is recommended, so another test can be carried out to ensure you are clear of infection.
You should avoid having sex until you (and your partner) have been treated and given the all clear to prevent re-infection or passing on the infection to anyone else.
You should use condoms every time you have sex and a dam (female condom) to cover the female genitals during oral sex. Cover sex toys with a condom and do not share them. You should get tested regularly, particularly if you are having unprotected sex or if you have a new or multiple partners. This will help protect you and prevent the spread of gonorrhoea.