Gonorrhea is one of the most well known STDs.
Commonly referred to as 'the clap', gonorrhea is thought to infect about 1.3 million people in the USA every year.
About half of those cases are never reported. The disease is caused by the bacteria neisseria gonorrhea which causes inflammation of the glands. The bacteria grows and multiples in the warm moist areas of the body.
It primarily affects the urethra in men and the cervix in women. Gonorrhea of the rectum is also possible for those who practice anal sex. It is an STD that is both treatable and preventable.
The disease almost always spreads by sexual contact. Women are frequently asymptomatic carriers of the organism for weeks or months and often are identified when sexual contacts are traced. Asymptomatic infection is also common in the oropharynx and rectum in homosexual men and is occasionally found in the urethra in heterosexual men.
Gonorrhea occurring in the vagina or rectum of prepubertal children is usually transmitted from adults through sexual abuse or, rarely, by fomites.
What are the symptoms of Gonorrhea?
The symptoms of gonorrhea depend on what part of the genital area is infected. If the gonorrhea has infected the urethra, a man or woman may experience a burning sensation while urinating and additional discharge from the urethra. The burning may be extremely or mildly painful, and is complicated by the fact the patient may feel the need to urinate more often. The discharge from the urethra may be clear or milky and range in color from white to yellow-green. The groin will sometimes feel swollen and tender. There may, however, be no symptoms present (as in about 50% of women by some accounts) and some individuals may unknowingly infect their partner(s).
Gonorrhea can also infect the cervix. In this case most women experience no symptoms. Consequently, many women will experience complications before being aware of their infection. Those who do experience symptoms notice an increased vaginal discharge and some irritation of the vulva. In addition, if the glands of the urethra are infected urination may cause burning.
Finally, gonorrhea may cause infections of the mouth and anus. An oral infection normally produces no symptoms. In some cases the patient will experience a sore throat. Like the oral infection, the anal infection often causes no observable symptoms. The infection may, however, cause anal discomfort or itching as well as an anal discharge of pus or blood.
If gonorrhea is not treated quickly complications may occur. In men the bacteria can spread up the urethra that affects the prostate, seminal vesicles, Cowper's glands and the epididymis. An abscess will form causing pain, fever and chills. This abscess will eventually drain which releases pus into the urethra or anus. Men may suffer from infertility following gonorrhea if the epididymis is scarred. Women may have problems with infected Bartholin's glands. If swelling blocks the duct, a sore will form. The lower part of the vulva will become red on the infected side. If this infection spreads from the Bartholin's glands to the uterus, it is probable that the woman will contract pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
How is Gonorrhea contracted?
Gonorrhea is an easily contractible disease unless safer sex is practiced. Any form of sexual penetration (oral, anal and vaginal) can transmit gonorrhea. If a man has vaginal intercourse with an infected woman, his chances of catching gonorrhea are from 30-50%. A woman's risk during coitus with an infected man is much higher (60-90%).
Other means of catching the disease exist but are not as common. A person with gonorrhea can infect another area of their body by touching the infected area and transferring the excretions. Gonorrhea may also spread in clothing or wash cloths. If a washcloth is used on an infected area and then soon after used by another, infection may occur. Anal infection can occur in women not only from anal intercourse but also from vaginal intercourse. Sometimes infected secretions from the vagina drip down around the anus causing infection. The use of latex condoms and dental dams can help prevent the transmission of the disease.
How is the condition treated?
Treatment with antibiotics is effective against gonorrhea. Penicillin and tetracycline are commonly used, however some strains of gonorrhea have developed resistance to these treatments and other drugs such as ceftriaxone or spectinomycin may also be used. Often Chlamydia and gonorrhea occur simultaneously and are treated together. Always consult your physician about the treatments best for you.
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