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Making Sense of ... Gonorrhea




What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection, caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The disease thrives in the reproductive system in women, infecting the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes. it also occures in the urethra in both women and men. In some case, the infection can involve the mouth, throat, eyes, and anus.

Where is gonorrhea usually found?

Gonorrhea is found in the sexual organs of sexually active people around the world. It may alsobe found in the throat and /or rectum.

How common is gonorrhea?

Research suggests that in any one year, upwards of one in 300 people aquire the infection; the incidence may be much higher, as many cases go unreported, and the infection may be unrecognized or misdiagnosed in many people.

How is gonorrhea transmitted?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection; anyone infected can pass the infection on to others. Additionally, it can be passed from mother to baby at birth. Infectivity can only be stopped by successfully treating the infection.

Who is most at risk?

Young people, particularly in urban areas; promiscuous people of either gender, and those who have unprotected straight, anal or oro-genital sex.

What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?

Men will experience a burning sensation on passing urine, and have a yellowish white discharge from the penis.

Women may have a discharge from the vagina and some will have burning while urinating.

Infections in the throat and rectum cause few symptoms. Many women will have no symptoms at all, but will still be able to pass on the infection. A small proportion of men will have such mild symptoms that they may not be aware of the infection, particularly men who habitually have poor personal hygiene.

How is gonorrhea diagnosed?

Laboratory tests for Neisseria gonorrhoeae, using samples of discharge from the urinary tract or cervical smears, is the usual method. less reliably, urine samples may be tested.

Is there a treatment for gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea can be treated with appropriate antibiotics; but as antibiotic-resistant strains develop (and they are developing at an ever increasing rate), management is ever more difficult, with greater risk of side effects and reduced success in therapy.

Currently (2011) the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend treatment of gonorrhea with a single class of drugs, ie, the cephalosporins.1

Is there a way to prevent infection?

Safer sex practices and an intelligent attitude to sexual activity.

What is the mortality rate for gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is not considered a fatal disease; but in severely immuno-compromised people, any infection can contribute to further debilitation.

What are the long term effects of gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a leading cause of infertility among women worldwide. Though the disease is curable, symptoms in women often go unnoticed until permanent scarring of the reproductive organs has occurred.

What is the gonorrhea vaccine?

There is currently no vaccine, though there is considerable research interest.2

Can gonorrhea be controlled environmentally?

The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual contact, or maintain along-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known not to be infected with Chlamydia trachomatis.

Due to difficulty and delay in diagnosis, management of individual occurrences will never eradicate the disease. Increased understanding of safer sex practice and a change in cultural norms in sexual behaviour may assist in controlling the disease. In the real world, there is no prospect of any such understanding or evolution in behaviour; currently, gonorrhea is out of control.

Bibliography and Further Information Sources


  1. Walker, C. K., Sweet, R. L., (2011) Gonorrhea infection in women: prevalence, effects, screening, and management .
    Int J Womens Health. 2011; 3: 197–206
  2. Zhu, W. et al., Vaccines for Gonorrhea: Can We Rise to the Challenge?
    Front Microbiol. 2011; 2: 124

If this article hasn't answered your question, email me at the address below, and I'll try to get the information you seek. I regret I cannot assist with individual cases or essays and school projects, but if it's something I've missed, I'll be happy to try and help.

Article written by Andrew Heenan BA (Hons), RGN, RMN

First Published: 21 October 2006
Last updated: 19 April 2012
© Andrew Heenan 2006 et seq


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