The World Health Organisation is warning that gonorrhoea is becoming resistant to antibiotics. Here's all you need to know about this nasty infection.
What is gonorrhoea?
Found in the semen and vaginal fluids of men and women, gonorrhoea is a highly contagious infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It's passed on by having sex with an infected partner.
In women, it's also possible for the infection to spread through vaginal secretions to the rectum - you don't have to have anal sex - and pregnant women can transfer the disease to their baby during childbirth. It can also grow in the eyes if you rub them after touching infected areas.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning that gonorrhoea is becoming resistant to antibiotics which could mean, in the future, it may become incurable and even more widespread.
Dr Ranj Singh says: "Young people need to be aware of the potential complications to ensure they make the right choices about their sexual health. It's important to get tested so you can be treated promptly and fully."
What are the symptoms of gonorrhoea?
Signs of infection can start two to 10 days after having sex with an infected person, however, over half of women infected and a third of men may not have any symptoms at all.
For women, symptoms include painful urination and pain during sex, vaginal discharge, anal itching or discharge (after anal sex), sore throat and fever (after oral sex), heavier periods and bleeding between periods. Menstrual problems aside, for men, the symptoms mirror a woman's but include tender testicles and a discharge from the penis. If the infection is in the eye you can expect redness, itching or discharge.
What does gonorrhoea look like?
Discharge is the obvious physical sign. In men, this can start out as slimy and barely noticeable, but quickly develops into a more substantial yellowish or creamy coloured substance. For gay men it can lead to a painful discharge of bloody pus in the rectum. In women, it can be yellowish - sometimes almost green - and smells gross.
How is gonorrhoea treated?
If you have any of the above symptoms you need to get it sorted straight away. Go to your nearest genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or make an appointment to see your doctor (GP). Diagnosis often requires a sample of urine and a swab sample from the cervix, urethra, penis, rectum, or throat tobe sent to the lab for testing. Sometimes the GP can diagnose it straight awayby doing a Gram Stain in the clinic. If you have conjunctivitis a swab sample will also be collected for testing from your eyes.
Treatment is straightforward: a single-dose injection of an antibiotic, such as ceftriaxone (Rocephin) or a single-dose pill, such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro). People infected with gonorrhoea sometimes have chlamydia too, so doctors often give a combination of antibiotics to treat both STIs.
Treatment with antibiotics is quick and effective; you'll see an improvement in symptoms within two to three days. However, if you don't see any improvement you should make an appointment to see your doctor again. Partners should also be tested and regular check-ups are recommended to avoid re-infection.
What if I ignore it?
Thanks to its minging symptoms gonorrhoea is something most people can't ignore. However, if you do choose to stick your head in the sand you can expect a whole host of health problems. In men, this includes inflammation of the testicles and possible infertility, as well as a permanent narrowing of the urethra (urine tube in the penis). In women, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can be extremely painful and lead to more serious health issues, including infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Babies born to an infected woman can also suffer inflammation and discharge in the eyes (conjunctivitis), which can lead to blindness.
If, after all this, you're still in denial the infection may spread through the bloodstream and affect your joints and heart. Complications can include meningitis (inflammation of thebrain) or endocarditis (an infection of the heart).
How do I protect myself from gonorrhoea?
Using condoms can protect you during sex, and if using sex toys be vigilant about washing them afterwards.
Remember, it's not just penetrative sex that transfers STIs. You can catch chlamydia, herpes, syphilis, LGV and gonorrhoea from having unprotected oral sex. The HPV virus, which can cause warts and (though rarely) cancer, can also be caught from having oral sex. Make sure you're protected and practice safe oral sex by using a condom or dental dam.
How soon can I have sex again?
Your GP will probably advise you to abstain from ANY form or sexual intercourse - including messing around with sex toys - until both you and your partner have completed your treatment and any follow-up treatment. This is to prevent you being re-infected or passing it on to someone else.
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