Gonorrhea is the second most common sexually transmitted disease – here’s what you need to know about it

Microscopic image of gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is on the rise in the US (Photo: Getty Images)

Cases of gonorrhea are skyrocketing in the US after hitting an all-time low in 2009. In 2020 (last year’s data are available), more than 675,000 cases of gonorrhea were reported Centers for Disease Control and Preventionmaking it the second most common sexually transmitted infection after chlamydia.

In fact, rates of reported gonorrhea have increased by 111% since 2009. But despite its prevalence, many people don’t know much about the infection. Here are important facts to keep in mind, just in case.

It is not transmitted through kissing or eating together.

gonorrhea caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeaespreads through sexual contact with an infected person’s penis, vagina, mouth, or anus CDC explained. A person does not have to ejaculate for gonorrhea to spread. It can also be transmitted from mother to baby during childbirth, infectious disease expert dr Amesh Adaliasenior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, to Yahoo Life.

Having gonorrhea once doesn’t prevent you from getting it again: The CDC says people who have had gonorrhea and been treated for it can become infected again if they have sexual contact with someone with gonorrhea.

It is not uncommon to have gonorrhea and chlamydia at the same time.

research has shown that up to 50% of all teenagers and young adults who test positive for gonorrhea in STD clinics, family planning centers and juvenile detention centers also had chlamydia. Adalja says this can happen simply because “people with gonorrhea are also likely to have risk factors for chlamydia and vice versa.” And he emphasizes, “They’re both transmitted in the same way and have the same acquisition risks.”

Many people with gonorrhea have no symptoms.

Most men and women with gonorrhea are asymptomatic — meaning they have no symptoms, the CDC says. The reason for this probably lies in individual immune responses, says Adalja. Some people’s immune systems don’t respond strongly to the bacteria and therefore don’t trigger symptoms, he explains.

Because many people with gonorrhea may go undiagnosed, “the true number of those who are asymptomatic is not known.” dr Nancy Phillipsassociate professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and director of the Center for Vulvovaginal Health, told Yahoo Life.

It can take about a week for symptoms to appear.

Again, many people with gonorrhea never show any signs of the disease. But for those who do, Phillips says, “symptoms generally appear within five to 14 days, but can be delayed by months, potentially allowing the infection to go undetected for extended periods,” she says.

When symptoms do appear, they are slightly different for men and women. Men may experience the following symptoms, the CDC says:

  • pain when urinating

  • White, yellow, or green discharge from the penis

  • testicular or testicle pain

According to the CDC, women may have these symptoms:

According to the CDC, if someone with gonorrhea has a rectal infection:

  • discharge

  • Anal itch

  • Pains

  • bleeding

  • Painful bowel movements

There’s a cure for gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea can cause permanent and serious health problems if left untreated. In women, the bacteria can spread to the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease that can lead to infertility, the CDC says. Men can also develop infertility due to gonorrhea, although this is rare.

Fortunately, gonorrhea can be treated. Treatment typically consists of one dose of the antibiotic ceftriaxone administered once by injection, per CDC. “If gonorrhea has spread up into the pelvis, hospitalization for IV antibiotics may be necessary,” says Phillips. And she notes that it’s a good idea to get tested again two to four weeks after treatment to make sure the treatment worked and you didn’t catch it again from a partner.

However, in January, Massachusetts health officials identified a new strain of gonorrhea “of concern” that shows some resistance to several antibiotics used to treat the sexually transmitted disease. It’s a sign, according to a statement released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health the first time in the US that a strain of gonorrhea showed a decreased response to five different types of antibiotics. The two cases identified in the state were eventually cured after injections of the antibiotic ceftriaxone, the most commonly used treatment.

Gonorrhea can be prevented.

There are some ways to lower your risk of contracting gonorrhea. the Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

  • Use a condom when having sex.

  • Limit the number of your sex partners.

  • Make sure you and your partner get tested for sexually transmitted infections.

  • Don’t have sex with someone who has symptoms of an STI, including burning when urinating or a genital rash or sore.

  • Consider annual gonorrhea screening, which is recommended for sexually active women under the age of 25 and for older women at increased risk of infection. The CDC also recommends that all men ages 13 and older who have sex with other men should be screened for gonorrhea every year.

If you have had gonorrhea and have been treated for it, the CDC recommends that you do not have sex until you and your partner have completed treatment to reduce the risk of reinfection.

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