Gonorrhoea is one of the more common sexually transmitted infections and is easily passed on during sex.
It is caused by bacteria that live in warm, moist parts of the body such as the throat, rectum, penis and vagina.
It’s also found in infected semen and vaginal fluids.
Symptoms in men usually show within ten days, but it is common for women to have no symptoms.
Gonorrhoea in the penis often causes a yellowish-white discharge and a burning feeling, especially when urinating. In the vagina it can cause a change in the discharge, a burning feeling when urinating and pain in the pelvis, belly or lower back.
Gonorrhoea in the throat sometimes causes a sore throat but it is mostly symptom-free. With gonorrhoea in the rectum there are often no symptoms but there might be discomfort and discharge.
How it’s passed on
Gonorrhoea is spread during vaginal, oral or anal sex without condoms. It can also spread on fingers when you touch an infected part of the body then touch other parts of your or someone else’s body.
Using the male condom or Femidom (female condom) cuts the risk. Other types of contraception, such as the contraceptive pill, offer no protection against sexually transmitted infections.
If you have HIV, having untreated gonorrhoea makes it more likely that you’ll pass on HIV during unprotected sex.
Tests and treatment
There is a urine test for gonorrhoea, or a sample is taken from the infected part of your body using a swab (small cotton bud). Swabs taken from the rectum, throat and vagina don’t hurt – a swab taken from the inside tip of a man’s penis can be uncomfortable for a second or two.
Gonorrhoea is treated with antibiotics. People you’ve had sex with also need to get checked – a clinic can contact them if you don’t want to. Left untreated, gonorrhoea can cause serious problems, including infertility in men and women.
Most people get tested and treated for infections like gonorrhoea at sexual health (or ‘GUM’) clinics. It is free and confidential – no one else, including your GP will be told about your visit. Some GP surgeries also test for and treat these infections.
The more people you have sex with, especially unprotected sex, the more chance of infections such as gonorrhoea. You can have them without knowing, so regular check-ups are a good idea – especially if you are starting a new relationship and/or you want to stop using condoms with your partner.
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