What is gonorrhea?

Sometimes referred to as the "clap", gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Gonococcal infections are one of the main causes of urethritis (inflammation of the urethra), cervicitis (inflammationof the cervix), and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

The gonorrhea bacteria can be transmitted by sexual penetration (oral, vaginal,rectal). In men the infection usually starts as an infection of the urethra. In women it usually first infects the cervix. The bacterium also can infect the throat and rectum during oral and anal sex. Gonorrhea infection can be present without symptoms and therefore be unknowingly transmitted.

What are the signs and symptoms of gonorrhea?

Sometimes an infected person will have no detectable symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they usually develop within two to five days after exposure to an infected person but may develop any time between 1 to 30 days. Symptoms include:

For women:

  • Cloudy, yellow vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Chronic abdominal pain

For men:

  • Cloudy, thick discharge from the penis
  • Painful or swollen testicles

For both women and men:

  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Frequency of urination
  • Sore throat (from oral sex)
  • Inflamed anus or rectum (from anal intercourse)

How is gonorrhea diagnosed?

A culture or "antigen detection" assay can provide an accurate diagnosis in most cases. It can be performed on men or women by taking secretions from the suspected sites of infection (cervix, urethra, anus, rectum, and mouth or by a urine specimen). This test is relatively painless and can be done at Student Health.

How is gonorrhea treated?

Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotic drugs taken orally or by an injection. All partners must be treated. Treatment during the early stages is usually 100% effective. A follow-up culture and examination are necessary because there have been cases of infection resistant to the usual treatment.

What are the risks if gonorrhea is not treated?

Many people with gonorrhea do not recognize symptoms until complications develop.Left untreated it may cause scarring of the urethra, damage to the cells lining the fallopian tubes, pelvic inflammatory disease, and sterility.

Source: Sexually Transmitted Diseases, (Bethesda, MD: Office of Communications,National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health,US Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, January 1992).