What is gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Gonorrhea can infect any sexually active person, but is especially common in those aged 15-24. Many infections are asymptomatic.
Gonorrhea affects mucous membranes – typically those of the urethra, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and rectum. It can also affect the mouth, throat, and eyes.
Gonorrhea is curable with the right treatment, typically an antibiotic injection. It is important to remember that treatment medications cannot repair damage caused by long-term infection. While effective antibiotic treatments are available, gonorrhea has been known to develop resistance to the drugs prescribed to treat it.
Who is at risk for gonorrhea?
Any sexually active person is at risk for gonorrhea, particularly if they are having unprotected sex.
How is gonorrhea transmitted?
Gonorrhea is spread through sexual contact with the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus of an infected person. Gonorrhea can also be spread from a pregnant parent to their child during childbirth.
How many people are living with gonorrhea?
In 2018, nearly 9,000 people in Oklahoma had tested positive for gonorrhea. Just over 28% of those people were in the Tulsa metro area.
What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?
People who have gonorrhea are often asymptomatic, meaning they do not show any symptoms.
Penile symptoms may be experienced as:
- Painful or burning urination
- White, yellow, or green urethral discharge within 2 weeks of infection
- Scrotal pain
Vaginal symptoms may include:
- Painful or burning urination
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Bleeding between periods
Gonorrhea is often mistaken as a bladder or vaginal infection.
Gonorrhea can also affect the rectum and the throat.
Symptoms of rectal gonorrhea might include:
- Painful bowel movements
If throat gonorrhea symptoms are present, they are usually experienced as a sore throat.
Some people are at risk of developing serious complications regardless of symptoms. Gonorrhea can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, which can result in permanent damage, long-term pain, and infertility. Untreated gonorrhea can also cause inflammation of the tube at the back of the testicle that stores and carries sperm, which can also result in infertility.
If left untreated, gonorrhea can spread to the blood and joints and cause a potentially life-threatening infection. In addition, untreated gonorrhea increases the risk of getting and transmitting HIV.
Who should be tested for gonorrhea?
Any sexually active person is at risk for gonorrhea. Anyone with a partner recently diagnosed with gonorrhea or an STI should be tested for gonorrhea as well as other STIs.
The CDC recommends yearly screenings for all sexually active women under 25 years as well as older women with risk factors such as new or multiple partners or having a partner with an STI.
People who test positive for gonorrhea should consider being tested for other STIs.
I tested positive for gonorrhea, what now?
Gonorrhea is curable with the right treatment, typically an antibiotic injection. It is important to remember that treatment medications cannot repair damage caused by long-term infection. It is also worth noting that while effective antibiotic treatments are available, gonorrhea has been known to develop resistance to the drugs prescribed to treat it. If your symptoms continue after a few days of treatment, return to your healthcare provider to be retested. Because reinfection is common, testing is recommended 3 months after treatment of the initial treatment.
If you have tested positive for gonorrhea, it is important you notify all of your vaginal, anal, and oral sex partners so they can visit their healthcare provider and be treated. It is important to avoid having sex until seven days after finishing your medication and you are symptom-free.
The best way to prevent gonorrhea is to get tested routinely and use condoms the right way every time you have sex.