The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that more than 700,000 people in the U.S. get new gonorrheal infections each year. It’s caused by the bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the bacteria grow in warm, moist areas of the body, including urethra. In women, the bacteria may be found in the reproductive tract which includes the fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix. The CDC said the bacterium can also grow in the mouth, throat, eyes and anus.
Anyone who has any type of sex can catch gonorrhea. KidsHealth.org reported the bacteria can be passed from one person to another through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. You cannot catch gonorrhea from a towel, a doorknob or a toilet seat.
If someone has symptoms of gonorrhea, they usually appear between two to five days after getting infected. The bad news is some people don’t have symptoms at all. The NIH said in these cases, they may be completely unaware they have caught the disease, and therefore don’t seek treatment. This increases the risk of complications and the chances of passing the infection on to another person.
According to the CDC, the symptoms of gonorrhea are often mild, but even when a woman has symptoms, they can be so non-specific as to be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. The initial symptoms and signs in women include a painful or burning sensation when urinating, increased vaginal discharge, or vaginal bleeding between periods.
Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. It’s critical for those infected to inform any current or recent sexual partners so they can seek treatment as well. Treatment does not make people immune to future cases of gonorrhea. The CDC said people who have had gonorrhea and received treatment may get infected again if they have sexual contact with a person infected with gonorrhea.
Antibiotics will stop the infection, but unfortunately they can’t repair what permanent damage the STD has done to the body. Even with mild to no symptoms, untreated gonorrhea can lead to serious health problems and infertility. That’s because gonorrhea is one of the common causes of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The CDC warned that PID can lead to internal abscesses and long-lasting, chronic pelvic pain. PID can damage the fallopian tubes enough to cause infertility or increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy.
Abstinence is the only absolute way not to become infected with gonorrhea. Otherwise experts recommend using a condom. That’s the only birth control method that can help prevent this disease.
Reviewed June 29, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton