A disease or infection mostly transmitted through sex is called as sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI). Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses (organisms that cause variety of illnesses).

According to World Health Organization (WHO), all over the world each year 340 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted diseases occur. In the US, 65 million people live with sexually transmitted disease (STD) and each year 15 million new cases occur.

Understanding Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a very common sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

In men and women, the bacteria infect urethra (urine canal) and in women, mostly warm and moist areas of the reproductive tract including the cervix (opening to the womb), uterus (womb), and fallopian tubes (egg canals).

The bacteria can also infect the mouth, throat, eyes, and anus. In the US, more than 700,000 new cases of gonorrhea are reported every year.

Gonorrhea (Gonococcus infection) is commonly transmitted by an infected person through vaginal, anal and oral sex. If the pregnant woman is already infected with gonorrhea, then it may be transmitted to her baby during delivery.

It is possible to be infected with gonorrhea and have no symptoms. In men, symptoms of gonorrhea are more visible. Half of the women infected with gonorrhea exhibit no signs at all. In men symptoms may appear within two to five days and in some men it may take as long as 30 days.

Symptoms of gonorrhea in men are as follows:

  • White, pale yellow or greenish discharge from the penis
  • Burning or painful urination
  • Discharge from rectum and or irritation of anus
  • Painful or swollen testicles

Symptoms of gonorrhea in women are as follows:

  • Painful and burning sensation when passing urine
  • Increased vaginal secretions which can change to yellow or greenish discharge
  • Foul odor
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Anal discharge
  • Itching
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Soreness of the rectum
  • Rectal bleeding

The diagnosis of gonorrhea is carried out through physical examination of the genital areas and culture tests.

The healthcare provider may take samples of the swabs of the affected areas.

In women, a pelvic examination may be undertaken and smear tests may be carried out. Sometimes, samples of the urine may also be taken for testing.

If the patient had anal sex, swabs from rectum may also be taken. In case of oral sex, similar swabs from the mouth may also be taken. These samples are sent to the lab for culture test and examined under microscope for the presence of bacteria. The doctor can prescribe appropriate treatment based on the confirmation by the culture test.

If the infection is diagnosed at early stages, the treatment for gonorrhea is simple and effective. Gonorrhea is generally treated with antibiotics (medicines that can kill or inhibit the growth of the disease causing bacteria) namely floroquinolones which include Ciprofloxacin, Levofloxacin, Ofloxacin etc. which are given orally in single doses per day.

As gonorrhea has become resistant to these flouroquinolnes, another type of antibiotics namely cephalosporins such as cefotaxime, cephalexin, cefaclor, ceftazidime, cefixime etc. are recommended.

If gonorrhea is not treated, the bacteria can spread up to the reproductive organs and into the blood and may cause the following complications:

  • In women: The infection can spread into uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes (tubes that transport egg from the ovary to the womb) causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) leading to scarring of the tubes, pregnancy complications and infertility. PID can result in abdominal pain, irregular menstruation, back pain and pain during intercourse.
  • In men: The infection can cause inflammation of the sperm ducts (epididymitis) a painful condition of the testicles resulting in infertility.
  • Joints: The infection can spread to the joints and other parts of the body through the blood resulting in joint pain, swelling, stiffness, fever, rash and skin sores.
  • HIV/AIDS risk: Untreated gonorrhea increases the risk of being more susceptible to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • Complications in infants: Babies infected with gonorrhea from their mothers at the time of birth can develop loss of vision, scalp sores, joint and other infections.

Presently there is no vaccine to prevent gonorrhea. However, precautions may be adopted to prevent gonorrhea.

The surest way to prevent gonorrhea is by avoiding sex. If it cannot be avoided, then make sure that you and or your partner use condoms.

Ensure that your partner is free from gonorrhea. If not sure, then insist on your partner to get checked.

Do not indulge in sex with an infected partner. I

If your partner has unusual symptoms of sexually transmitted disease, such as burning sensation during urination or rash on the genitals and unusual discharge, avoid sex with the partner.

If you have multiple sex partners, had gonorrhea or any other STD in the past, consult your doctor to have regular screening.