Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmissible infection (STI). Gonorrhoea (or Neisseria gonorrhoeae) is a bacteria that causes an infection in the genital area. It is spread by sexual contact. You can get gonorrhoea in the genital area through vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Gonorrhoea can get into the urethra (the tube that runs from your bladder), anus, throat, cervix (neck of the womb) or uterus. People can also get an infection in their eye. Very occasionally gonorrhoea can spread from the genital area into the joints.
Some people do not know they have the infection because they have no signs or symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they usually develop a few days or around a week after the bacteria has been introduced into the genital area through having sex with someone who has gonorrhoea.
Some of the symptoms of gonorrhoea include:
- crampy pain in the lower abdomen just above the pubic bone
- a change in their vaginal secretions (there may be more secretion or it may change in colour and/or smell)
- a yellow discharge from the penis
- pain and buring sensation when passing urine
- bleeding from the vagina between periods and after having sex
- pain during or after sex
- if the infection goes up the urethra, the testes may become swollen and sore.
In men and women, gonorrhoea can be spread through oral sex, causing infection of the throat. People with gonorrhoea in their throat may have no symptoms, or just have a vaguely sore throat, but can pass on the infection to their partner if they have unprotected sex.
Gonorrhoea can be spread through anal sex, causing infection of the rectum (back passage). Sometimes this can cause pain in the rectum and discharge or mucus from the anus, or it may not cause any symptoms at all.
Testing for gonorrhoea can be by:
- Taking a swab from the cervix in women, or from the opening of the penis in men or from the anus in anyone who has had unprotected anal sex. This is done with a cotton swab or similar device and does not usually hurt.
- Taking a urine sample and sending it to the laboratory for testing. It usually takes a few days for the result to come back.
- For people who have had unprotected oral sex, a swab is taken from the throat.
If, when you have your check up, you find out that you do have gonorrhoea anyone you have had sex within the past few months will also need to be tested. This is to make sure that they are clear of the infection and to prevent you being re-infected by your partner or partners. If you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about telling your partner/s, your health worker can assist by contacting your partner or partners. Your name is not mentioned to ensure it is a confidential process. Remember this is very important for your partner’s health and the health of other people they may have sex with.
Gonorrhoea can be effectively treated with antibiotics. There are a number of different types of treatment including tablets or injections which can be given as just a single dose or a longer course of antibiotics depending on whether the person is allergic to certain antibiotics.
To ensure the infection has been cured:
- It is important to take all the tablets.
- It is best not to have sex until you have returned to the clinic for a follow up appointment to test whether the infection has been cured. Usually people come back to the clinic about one week after treatment for their first test and to check that they did not have any problems with the medications.
The best way to avoid getting gonorrhoea is to practice safe sex: that is, to use a condom when you have vaginal or anal sex and to use dental dams for oral sex. If you have had unprotected sex, you may be at risk of gonorrhea.
- Practise safer sex. Always using condoms with casual partners or partners who have not had a sexual health check when you have vaginal or anal sex is the best way to avoid getting a gonorrhoeal infection.
- Gonorrhoea can infect the throat. It is therefore important to use protection when having oral sex. If you are giving a man oral sex (his penis in your mouth), then he will need to wear a condom. It does not matter whether you are male or female, if you put your mouth in contact with your partner’s anus or vulva while having sex, you will need to use a dental dam.
Sometimes, when people become infected with gonorrhoea, they may have a vaginal or urethral discharge that goes away after a week or so. It is important to know that if the discharge goes away on its own this does not mean that the infection is cured. The only way to cure this infection is to have the correct treatment. If you do have an unusual vaginal, anal or urethral discharge, you need to go to your doctor, family planning or sexual health clinic.
For more information on gonorrhoea, you can talk to:
- your local doctor
- your local sexual health clinic
- your local family planning clinic.
- Animated Movies - Gonorrhoea in women and Gonorrhoea in men
Last updated: 21 March, 2011