What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea (“the clap”) is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) spread by a bacterium, which means it can be treated fairly easily with antibiotics. Most people who are infected with Gonorrhea also have Chlamydia, so they are usually treated simultaneously even if chlamydia didn’t show up on the test.


How do people get Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is spread very easily through sexual contact, which includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex. All sexual fluids can hold the bacteria, so even if the man does not ejaculate he can still pass Gonorrhea to his partner. Infected women can pass Gonorrhea to their children during pregnancy and childbirth, which can result in a severe infection of the eyes and possible blindness in the newborn.


How common is Gonorrhea?

You can get Gonorrhea after just one sexual episode with an infected person. The National Institutes of Health estimate that a man has a 20% chance of catching Gonorrhea after having sex just once with an infected partner, and this is even higher if he is having sex with another man. A woman has a 60-80% chance of contracting Gonorrhea after just one sexual encounter with an infected partner! The CDC estimates that over 820,000 people get Gonorrhea every year, and only about half of those infections are identified and reported.


What are the symptoms?

Most women infected with Gonorrhea do not have any symptoms. Men are more likely to have symptoms, which include burning while urinating, and a discharge from the penis. Sometimes the testicles become swollen and painful.


Some symptoms of Gonorrhea in women include:

  • Bleeding between periods
  • Itching or burning during urination
  • Increased vaginal discharge

These symptoms are easy to mistake for a UTI or bladder infection, so it’s important to get tested regularly before symptoms appear.


What is the treatment?

Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. Because people with Gonorrhea usually have Chlamydia as well, most doctors will prescribe multiple antibiotics to treat both STIs at once. Symptoms may resolve very quickly once you start antibiotics, but it’s important to take all the antibiotics you are given for the full length of time, even if you are feeling better, because the infection can hide in your body and remain infectious without your knowledge!


What if Gonorrhea isn’t treated?

As with any disease, if Gonorrhea isn’t treated, it will usually get worse. Untreated cases may develop into a serious illness called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, which can cause permanent damage to your reproductive system and is much more difficult to treat. Men with untreated Gonorrhea may sustain enough damage to their testicles that they become infertile. In some rare cases, Gonorrhea can spread into the blood and the joints, which can be life-threatening.


If you want to find out more, here are some websites with accurate information about Gonorrhea:

Centers for Disease Control STD Factsheet on Gonorrhea
CDC – Gonorrhea
WebMD – Gonorrhea