Gonorrhea is an ancient disease. Descriptions of it date back to the Old Testament in the Book of Leviticus. Gonorrhea is also known by the euphemistic name “the clap”. Stories about the origins of this name is varied. One story relates it to the French word “clapier”, which itself is a euphemism for a brothel, and not surprisingly, was where the disease was commonly found. Another (wince-inducing) story is that the name refers to an old method of treating the disease: by clapping the penis hard between objects, such as between a table and a heavy book.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 78 million people are infected with gonorrhea every year. Failure to practice safe sex and treatment failure are some factors behind the increased numbers of infection.
What causes gonorrhea and what happens during infection?
Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It is commonly spread through sexual intercourse (oral, anal, or vaginal sex), and can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth. Symptoms of infection normally show up a few days after infection. Symptoms in women are presence of vaginal discharge, lower abdominal pain, or pain during sexual intercourse. Symptoms in men are discharge from the penis and a burning sensation when urinating. The appearance of symptoms during gonococcal infection is common in men, but only 10% of infected women show symptoms. Furthermore, symptoms in women can be confused with other kinds of infection. This means that testing for gonorrhea is extremely important in women, as they are very likely to be unaware of an infection.
Gonococcal infection can also be acquired in the throat, through performing oral sex on an infected person. A sore throat can result, but this form of infection is almost always asymptomatic.
Gonococcal infections can also spread to other parts of the body from the initial site of infection, which are normally the genitals. This is likely to occur in people with weakened immune systems. In such disseminated infections, more serious complications can arise, such as endocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and meningitis (inflammation of the meninges, which are membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord). Such diseases can be fatal.
In the case of genital gonococcal infection, leaving the disease to progress untreated in women can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease. This disease affects the reproductive system, and can result in scarring within reproductive organs, causing infertility, ectopic pregnancy (when an embryo implants outside the uterus), and increasing the risk of cervical cancer. Because comparatively few women display symptoms during a gonococcal infection, women are generally at a much higher risk of leaving their condition untreated and developing complications.
Men who are infected and remain untreated can develop epididymitis (inflammation of the testes) and have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
If an infected mother passes the disease to her child, it can lead to ophthalmia neonatorum, or conjunctivitis (eye inflammation), which can result in blindness if left untreated. Treatment is simple, requiring only the use of eye drops that contain antibiotics.
Co-infection of gonorrhoea with chlamydia is quite common, so treatment for chlamydial infection is often included with treatment for gonorrhoea. As with many sexually transmitted diseases that cause skin lesions, gonorrhea also increases a person’s risk of acquiring HIV infection.
How is gonorrhea treated and prevented?
Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, which are injected intravenously, but people should keep in mind that antibiotic resistance is a serious concern with this disease. This is because N. gonorrhoeae is adept at exchanging genes with other bacteria (a process known as horizontal gene transfer), which helps it to obtain antibiotic resistance genes. Treatment options are likely to grow limited as antibiotic resistance spreads. This is one reason why preventing infection in the first place is paramount.
While gonorrhea can be cured, having a previous gonorrhea infection does not protect you from becoming re-infected. You must continue to be vigilant to protect yourself from re-infection, and to obtain testing and treatment early if you suspect that you have been re-infected. If you test positive for gonorrhea, it is important that your partner also gets tested.
Gonococcal infection can be prevented through proper use of condoms and dental dams. Maintaining a monogamous sexual relationship with one partner who is free of gonococcus infection will also limit your likelihood of becoming infected.
Untreated gonococcal infection carries serious consequences that can impact your future health and your ability to have children. Detecting gonococcal infection is discreet, quick, and easy using our Gonorrhea STD Rapid Test Kit. The kit requires only a swab to obtain epithelial cells from the urethra (for men) or vaginal wall (for women) and gives you with a reliable and accurate result in 15 minutes. It is safe and easy to use.