Gonorrhoea is an STI that is commonly called “the clap”. It can be transmitted by both males and females, and doesn’t require PiV (penis in vagina) sex to be passed on. Same-sex female and male couples can pass the infection to each other through bodily fluids such as discharge from the penis and in the vaginal fluid.
It’s a treatable condition, but can cause serious complications if it goes unnoticed and untreated for a long period of time. For example, it can cause infertility in both men and women.
The characteristic symptoms of gonorrhoea include green or yellow discharge from the penis or vagina, a burning sensation when urinating, and pain in the lower abdominal area.
Women may also experience bleeding between periods or after sex, though some people may not experience any symptoms at all.
Gonorrhoea is usually treated with two types of antibiotic – an injection, and oral tablets. These work together to kill the bacteria and eliminate the infection.
"Gonorrhoea is a fairly common STI, with around 45,000 people being diagnosed with it in the UK in 2017. It’s transmitted via bodily fluids that are secreted from the penis or vagina, and in some cases can even affect the eyes and throat if the bacteria come into contact with them. Gonorrhoea is a treatable and curable condition, but it needs prompt attention before it has chance to cause complications."
What is Gonorrhoea?
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection that’s commonly known as “the clap”. It is caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Gonorrhoea can be passed on between same-sex and opposite-sex partners, as the bacteria is found in the discharge from the penis, and within vaginal fluid. Partners don’t need to engage in PiV (penis in vagina) sex to contract the infection, in fact, it can be passed on orally, anally and vaginally, and can even be transmitted through sharing sex toys that haven’t been washed between uses.
Gonorrhoea is usually only passed on through unprotected sex, so using barrier methods such as condoms is a great way to prevent contracting the STI.
What are the symptoms of Gonnorhoea?
Unfortunately, gonorrhoea doesn’t always show symptoms. In fact, only 30-50% of women with the infection notice any symptoms, and some men may never develop them despite being a carrier of it. However, it is important to know the symptoms of gonorrhoea, as they can mimic other conditions or be so mild that you barely notice any changes. The most commonly reported symptoms of the STI are:
- Thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis
- Unusual vaginal discharge that can be watery
- Bleeding between periods
- Pain or burning when peeing
- Pain in the lower abdominal area
- Bleeding after sex (women)
- Inflammation of the foreskin
- Pain in testicles (rare)
Although gonorrhoea is transmitted through sex, if the bacteria comes into contact with the eyes or throat, it can also cause infections in those sites, possibly leading to conjunctivitis.
It is possible for a pregnant woman to pass the infection on to her child during birth, potentially causing an eye infection that can permanently blind the baby.
What are the complications of gonorrhoea?
If left untreated, gonorrhoea can cause nasty and potentially serious complications. For example, if a woman with gonorrhoea doesn’t notice any symptoms and the infection is allowed to manifest for a long time, she may become infertile.
Another risk that comes with leaving the infection untreated is the increased likelihood of developing pelvic inflammatory disease in females. This is a condition that affects the upper genital tract, including the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
Epididymitis can develop in men with untreated gonorrhoea, which can cause infertility, but luckily is a treatable condition that shouldn’t carry any further complications if it is resolved in time.
Having the STI can also increase your risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS.
Luckily, gonorrhoea is a very treatable condition, and with the right medications, you can be free of infection within a short amount of time.
Treatments for gonorrhoea:
As mentioned above, gonorrhoea is a treatable STI that may only take a few days to start clearing up. If you’ve been screened for gonorrhoea and the results have come back positive, you’ll be offered a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria and get rid of the infection.
Usually, the treatment offered to you will include two types of antibiotics. One (ceftrinaxone) will be given to you as a single injection, whilst the other (which will most likely be azithromycin or doxycycline) is taken orally. These medications work by stopping the bacteria from multiplying and ultimately killing it, removing the infection from your body.
Treatments for gonorrhoea are only available on prescription, and oral antibiotics are available to order online at Doctor4U. There are no treatments available over the counter or in a supermarket for general sale. If you suspect you might have gonorrhoea, or any other STI, please visit your local GUM clinic to be tested. However, you may want to wait up to a week after having unprotected sex so that the infection is detectable if you’ve contracted it. Symptoms generally tend to manifest within 2-14 days of contracting the infection.
You should alert all of your sex partners if you’ve been diagnosed with gonorrhoea so they can have the best change possible at getting tested and treated for the condition themselves, and if your partner has been diagnosed, you should be screened ASAP to make sure you’re safe.
If you’re having treatment for gonorrhoea, it’s advised that you avoid sex until you’re clear of the infection, which generally doesn’t take too long.
How common is gonorrhoea?
In 2017, around 45,000 people in the UK were diagnosed with the STI, making it fairly common. This translates as roughly 1 in every 1,466 people with gonorrhoea at that time.
As well as the regular STI, a new type of the infection, dubbed “super gonorrhoea” is on the rise across the globe. This condition is resistant to normal treatments such as the antibiotics mentioned above, and requires careful monitoring and thorough treatment to get rid of it.
Gonorrhoea is most common amongst the age group 15-30, but it’s absolutely possible for anyone that’s sexually active of any age to contract the infection – it isn’t just for young people.
How can you prevent gonorrhoea?
Unfortunately, the only way to completely avoid being infected with gonorrhoea, or any other STI for that matter, is to practice abstinence. This means refraining from sex completely. As this isn’t always realistic, the next best way to protect yourself against STIs is to use a barrier method such as condoms. This is especially important when you aren’t sure of your partner’s sexual history or STI status. A man doesn’t have to ejaculate to pass on the infection, as we already know, it can be transmitted in same-sex relationships, so other ways of staying safe are using condoms on sex toys (and changing the condom when you share the toys).
If your partner has been complaining of symptoms similar to those of gonorrhoea (for example, a burning sensation when they pee), it’s wise to abstain from sex until they’ve been checked for the STI (or at least use condoms until then). Whilst it could well be a UTI, it’s better to be safe than sorry.