6 surprising facts about gonorrhoea

Here’s what you need to know about this highly infectious STD.

27 January 2015
by Wendy Maritz

1. One of the risk factors for gonorrhoea is youth

Research suggests that gonorrhoea is most prevalent in the 15-to-29 age group. The reason for this is a logical one, says Joburg-based obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Trudy Smith. “This is when people are at their most sexually active.” This stat, however, also indicates a poor knowledge of STDs and their transmission among young people. “Unless you are in a monogamous relationship, i.e. engaging in sexual activity with a lifelong partner whom you are certain does not carry an STD, protected sex is not negotiable,” Dr Smith advises.

2. Gonorrhoea can affect reproductive health in women

If left untreated, gonorrhoea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can result in infertility, ectopic pregnancy (when the embryo implants in a place other than the uterus) and scarring in the Fallopian tubes. While symptoms of gonorrhea infection in women might only be slight, it is important to take notice of any abnormal vaginal discharge, pelvic pain and/or pain during intercourse, advises Dr Smith. Gonorrhoea is also associated with higher rates of miscarriage and preterm labour.

3. It can cause infertility in men

Symptoms of gonorrhoea in men include a white, yellow or green penile discharge, painful testicles and pain when urinating. If not treated, gonorrhoea may cause epididymitis, an inflammation in the testicles where the sperm ducts are located. A long-term complication is infertility.

4. Gonorrhoea can be passed from mother to infant during pregnancy and birth

When passed on to infants, gonorrhoea can cause a life-threatening blood infection and blindness.

5. Gonorrhoea is highly treatable

“Unlike STDs caused by viruses (such as HIV, genital warts and herpes), gonorrhoea is treatable with antibiotics,” advises Dr Smith. A GP can take a swab to test for the gonococcus bacteria, or test a blood sample for the presence of antibodies. A course of antibiotics can clear up the infection.

6. Gonorrhoea can infect other parts of the body

If secretions infected with gonorrhoea come into contact with the throat, eyes or rectum, in both men and women, this can result in conjunctivitis, throat infections, rectal pain, discharge and bleeding.

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