Gonorrhea, also known as the "clap" or "drip," is one of the most common STIs in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 700,000 people in the United States will get a new gonorrheal infection each year. Approximately 75% of all reported cases of gonorrhea are found in people who are 15 to 29 years of age.
How is it transmitted?
Gonorrhea is a bacteria transmitted through contact with the penis, vagina, anus, or mouth of an infected individual. Touching infected sex organs, and then touching your eyes can cause an eye infection. A pregnant woman can transmit the infection to her baby during a vaginal delivery. Gonorrhea cannot be spread by sharing toilets or bathrooms.
How can you protect yourself?
There are many ways to protect yourself. You can reduce the risk of infection by limiting your number of sexual partners and talking with the partners you have about their sexual history. Birth control methods such as the pill do not protect against STIs. When you have sex, condom use can greatly reduce the risk of infection. However, condoms are not 100% effective, and the only way to eliminate all risk is to abstain from sex. Finally, be honest with your doctor about your sexual history and ask to get tested.
Symptoms usually appear 2-10 days after infection, but could take as long as 30 days. It is possible to be infected and have no symptoms. The signs of rectal or eye infection are similar for both sexes. Rectal infection is often associated with discharge, anal itching, and painful, bloody bowel movements. Eye infection may cause burning, itching, or discharge.
- What are the symptoms in women?
Early symptoms include vaginal bleeding after intercourse, painful or burning sensation when urinating, and yellow/bloody vaginal discharge. More advanced symptoms such as bleeding between periods, cramps, vomiting, and fever may be a sign of PID (pelvic inflammatory disease).
- What are the symptoms in men?
In most cases, men will have symptoms more often than women do. Symptoms include white, yellow, or green pus from the penis with pain, burning sensations during urination, and swollen testicles.
How is it diagnosed?
If you have any of the above symptoms of gonorrhea, seek a physician's care. First, the doctor will do a physical exam to check for symptoms. At most hospitals, clinics or doctors' offices a urine sample will be screened as an initial test for gonorrhea. A doctor may also collect discharge from the penis or vagina and send it to a lab. The lab will test the sample for gonorrhea growth.
What is the treatment?
Gonorrhea can only be cured with medications prescribed by a doctor. Treatment options for gonorrhea are limited since resistance to most major classes of antibiotics has developed. The CDC currently recommends treatment of gonorrhea infection with a class of antibiotics called cephalosporins. The doctor will prescribe these antibiotics as either an injection or a pill. Take the full course of antibiotics even if symptoms go away. Alert any sexual partners so that they can be tested as well. Follow up with another test for gonorrhea 72 hours after finishing the course of antibiotics, or if you think you have been reinfected.
What are the long-term health effects?
When treated with antibiotics gonorrhea can be cured 95-99% of the time. If left untreated gonorrhea can develop into more serious medical conditions. The infection may spread through the bloodstream and affect systems throughout the body. Symptoms of more serious disease can include joint pain and rash. In women, gonorrhea can cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, which can cause infertility when left untreated. In men, gonorrhea can cause severe infection of the testes or prostate, symptoms of which include fever and painful urination. Hospitalization is recommended for treatment of gonorrhea complications.
For more information and statistics: CDC.
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