Gonorrhea: The Facts

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that can impact both men and women. It can infect the uterus, fallopian tubes and cervix. Both men and women can have infections in the urethra (where urine exits the body).  The bacteria can also infect the mouth, throat, eyes and rectum.

WHO?: Both men and women can be infected and in 2018 approximately 1.6 million infections occurred. The majority were diagnosed in people between 15-24 years old.

WHERE?: The bacteria is transmitted by:

  • Contact with the penis, vagina or anus of an infected partner
  • From mother to child during childbirth
  • Ejaculation does not need to occur for the disease to spread

WHAT?: It is the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. but some people do not have signs or symptoms, which means the actual number of infected people maybe much larger than we think. Even if a person is treated for an infection they can get reinfected if their partners are not adequately treated or they have sexual contact with another infected person.

Symptoms of gonorrhea are different for men and women. Many men do not have symptoms. Women can also be symptom free. If there are symptoms they can mimic bladder or vaginal infections.

Some signs include painful urination, increased vaginal discharge, or irregular bleeding. An untreated infection in a woman can lead to long term complications including infertility and an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.

If untreated, a gonorrhea infection can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) that may require hospitalization or surgery.  Untreated infections can also spread in the blood and cause disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI) which causes joint pain, skin changes and can be life threatening.

Rectal infections can also cause discharge and itching. There can also be bleeding or pain during bowel movements.

For babies, born through the birth canal of an infected mother, there is a risk of blindness, joint infection or life-threatening infection.  

WHEN?:  The highest rates of infection are in teenagers and young adults.

DIAGNOSIS: The diagnosis is made by testing the urine or obtaining a vaginal swab for women.

TREATMENT: Once diagnosed gonorrhea is easily treated with a single dose of antibiotic administered by an injection in the muscle.

FOLLOW UP: In general, women who have been infected are tested again 3-4 months later because re-infection is common. It is very important for all partners of an infected woman to also be treated.  

PREVENTION: The best way to reduce the risk of infection is by using latex condoms with each sexual encounter.

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