Coronavirus Update:What patients and families need to know
What is gonorrhea?
It's a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhea that causes an infection of the penis or vagina. Both men and women can get it. Some people also call it "the clap," "a dose" or "the drip." Gonorrhea usually infects the penis or vagina but it can also infect your rectum, throat or eyes.
How common is gonorrhea?
- There were more than 5,500 cases of gonorrhea reported in 2010 in Washington, D.C.
- There are about 700,000 cases of gonorrhea in the United States every year — that means approximately one in every 400 people get it each year.
- Only about half of those cases are reported and treated.
How do I know if I have gonorrhea?
Because so many people infected with gonorrhea have NO SYMPTOMS, the only way to know for sure is to GET TESTED. If you do get symptoms, they can start 1-30 days after coming in contact with the gonorrhea bacteria. On average, people usually start experiencing symptoms 4-8 days after becoming infected. Men are more likely to have symptoms of gonorrhea than women.
Symptoms can include:
For women only:
- Pain in the lower part of your belly
- Pain or spotting (light bleeding from your vagina) during sex
- Burning feeling when you pee
- New or different discharge or liquid from your vagina
For men only:
- Discharge or liquid from your penis. This could look milky, white, yellow or green.
- Burning feeling when you pee
- Swelling or pain in your testicles
- Sore throat, if you have gonorrhea in your throat
- Pain, bleeding and/or discharge from your anus if you have gonorrhea in your anus
The symptoms for gonorrhea and chlamydia are very similar, but the treatment is different for each one. So, if you are having symptoms of either infection, make sure you get tested for both.
Who is most likely to get gonorrhea?
You are more likely to get gonorrhea if:
- You are having sex with more than one person.
- The person/people you are having sex with are having sex with other people.
- You don't use condoms.
- You have had a sexually transmitted infection before.
- You are under 25 years old.
There are more reported cases of gonorrhea in people ages 15-19 or 20-24 years old, but these groups might just be getting tested more often.
How do you get gonorrhea?
Unprotected or under-protected sex. This means having sex without using condoms or using a condom, but the condom breaks, slips off or you don't use it the entire time. You can get gonorrhea by having ANY type of sex; vaginal, anal and oral sex.
The bacteria that cause gonorrhea like to live in the moist areas of your body. This includes the vagina, penis, rectum, throat and eyes. You can be infected with the gonorrhea bacteria any time you come in contact with these areas on someone who is infected. A male does not have to ejaculate for the gonorrhea bacteria to get passed to another person.
How can I keep from getting gonorrhea?
The only 100% effective way to not get gonorrhea is to not have sex. If you have sex, use a condom every time you have any type of sex and get tested regularly.
Ask your partner(s) to get tested before you start having sex. Only have sex with a partner who has tested negative for gonorrhea and is not having sex with anyone else. If you have tested positive for gonorrhea and finished treatment, get tested again three months later to make sure the infection is gone and you don't have it again.
How can I keep from spreading gonorrhea?
If you think you might have gonorrhea, don't have sex until you get tested and treated. Get tested regularly. Use a condom EVERY TIME you have vaginal, anal or oral sex
If you test positive for gonorrhea:
- Don't have sex until you've finished ALL of your medicine and your doctor says it's ok.
- Tell all of your current and past partners that you have it, since they could have it too. Remember, untreated gonorrhea can cause serious health problems, so anyone who might be infected should get tested and treated.
Can gonorrhea be treated? How do I get rid of it?
YES. You can treat and cure gonorrhea with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor. A doctor might give you an antibiotic shot along with other medicine to take while you are at the clinic/office.
If you treat gonorrhea early, it is usually cured with a single dose of antibiotics. To make sure your gonorrhea is cured and you don't pass it on to your partner, don't have sex until you have received antibiotics. Even though gonorrhea is easy to treat and cure, remember that you can get it again, even if you've had it and been treated before. Your partner(s) should also get tested and treated at the same time, so you don't re-infect each other.
Get treated as early as possible to prevent serious health problems. The first step to getting rid of gonorrhea is to see a doctor and get tested.
What can happen if I don't get treatment for gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea that is not treated can spread from one area of your reproductive tract to other surrounding parts. It causes serious health problems, including:
- Pain in the lower part of your belly
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- PID happens when the infection spreads to your fallopian tubes and/or ovaries.
- 30% of untreated chlamydia turns into PID.
- PID can make it more difficult to have a baby when you are ready.
- Does this mean I can't get pregnant? – No, most people with PID can still get pregnant. BUT, if these infections aren't treated early enough, scar tissue can form in your fallopian tubes and inside your belly. This tissue can block your fallopian tubes, which can make it harder to get pregnant. If the tubes are partially blocked, fertilized eggs might not reach your uterus and your pregnancy can form in the fallopian tubes. This is called a tubal or ectopic pregnancy.
- Scar tissue caused by PID can also be very painful and that pain can last for months or even years. If it's bad enough, you may have to have surgery to treat the scar tissue.
- PID can come back many times and it's more likely to come back if you get an STI again. The more times you have PID, the more likely you are to have health problems and more harm to your body.
- If the infection is bad enough and doesn't get treated, it could cause scarring of the tubes that carry sperm and affect your ability to have a baby in the future. This is pretty rare.
- Gonorrhea can spread into your bloodstream and cause fever, chills, blisters on your skin or arthritis in your joints.
How do I get tested for gonorrhea?
There are a few different ways to test for gonorrhea:
- Peeing in a cup
- Collecting a swab from the affected area — this could be your penis, vagina, cervix, rectum, throat and/or eye.
Remember, the symptoms for gonorrhea and chlamydia are very similar, but the treatment is different for each one. It's important to get tested for both. You can get tested at places like family planning centers, private doctors' offices, STI clinics, hospital clinics or health departments. Find a place to get tested from our list of testing locations.
How often should I get tested for gonorrhea?
If you are under 25 years old and have ever had sex, get tested at least ONCE A YEAR. You should get tested more often if you change sex partners or have had gonorrhea or another STI in the past. Talk to a doctor to figure out how often you should get tested.
It is important to continue to get tested regularly, even if you took all of your medicine and cured a past infection. You can get gonorrhea more than once, and may not have symptoms even if you had symptoms before.