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Gonorrhoea is not a virus, but is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which multiplies quickly in warm, moist places, such as the genital tracts.

A couple looking worried sitting on a bed

Gonorrhoea bacteria can infect the cervix, uterus and Fallopian tubes in women, and the urethra, anus, mouth and throat in men and women.

Left untreated, gonorrhoea causes complications such as infertility in both men and women. It can spread throughout the body (become systemic) and can cause septic arthritis, conjunctivitis and blindness, skin pustules and heart valve problems. Babies born to mothers with gonorrhoea can develop serious health problems.

What are its symptoms?

The gonorrhoea incubation period is around two to 14 days and when they set in gonorrhoea symptoms differ between men and women.

Men may present with:

  • Burning when passing urine
  • Yellow, green or whitish discharge from penis
  • Testicular pain (less common)
  • Sore throat or glands (from infection through oral sex)
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Joint pain.

Women are less likely to have symptoms, but when they do they include:

  • Burning when passing urine
  • Increased green, yellow or whitish vaginal discharge
  • Spotting between periods or after sex
  • Pelvic pain
  • Sore throat or enlarged glands (from infection through oral sex)
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Joint pain

How is it diagnosed?

Several tests can be used to reach a gonorrhoea diagnosis. A urine sample can be screened to search for the bacteria or your doctor may use a swab to take a sample from the urethra (men) or the cervix (women) for laboratory analysis. It may take several days for the test results to come back, although some tests are instant.

Swabs may also be taken from the throat and/or rectum if the person has had oral and/or anal sex. Your healthcare provider may also recommend testing for chlamydia, as these STIs often occur together.

What are your treatment options?

Gonorrhoea is curable and gonorrhoea treatment is usually very straightforward, involving either oral or injectable antibiotics, although these drugs can’t undo any damage caused by the infection.

As antibiotic resistance is on the increase, it’s essential to take medication exactly as prescribed and to finish the entire course. If symptoms do not clear up, another course of a different antibiotic may be necessary.

Experts recommend avoiding sex up until at least a week after the last day of treatment, so as to ensure that the disease is not spread to sexual partners.

Alert any recent partners so that they can be tested for gonorrhoea.

Can it be prevented?

Safe sex is the mainstay of gonorrhoea prevention. This means always using condoms and making sure that you use them correctly, limiting sexual partners or practising abstinence, and being regularly screened for sexually transmitted infections.

It is important to avoid all sexual activity during treatment for gonorrhoea and for at least a week thereafter.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Unprotected sex increases your risk of HIV/AIDS. Clicks offers HIV testing and counselling at our clinics, simply call 0860 254 257 or book with Clicks Clinics online to make an appointment.

Shop online at Clicks.co.za for condoms

Don't be caught unawares – rather stock up on condoms here so that you can ensure you're practising safe sex at all times.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by physician Dr Thomas Blake in May 2015