What is it?
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria. The infection can become serious in both men and women if not treated early.
What are the symptoms?
Most women and some men will have no early symptoms. Signs of gonorrhea can take 2 to 10 days to show up (and sometimes even longer). Most women who have gonorrhea don’t have any visible symptoms, or mistake their symptoms for bladder or vaginal infections. For men, symptoms usually appear in the first week after infection.
Common signs and symptoms of a gonorrhea infection may include:
- Pain, burning, or discomfort with urination (for women)
- Bleeding during or after sex (for women)
- Abnormal bleeding between periods (for women)
- Change or increase in vaginal discharge (for women)
- Pain with sex (for women)
- Burning or discomfort with urination (for men)
- A white, yellow or green discharge from the penis (for men)
- Itching around the urethra (the opening to the penis) (for men)
- Painful or swollen testicles (for men)
As well, oral sex can cause gonorrhea in the throat for both men and women. This may cause a sore throat and swollen glands, but it usually causes no symptoms.
Gonorrhea in the anus can cause discharge, bleeding, anal itching, soreness or painful bowel movements. Or there may not be any symptoms.
How do I get it?
You can get gonorrhea through direct contact with sexual fluids of an infected person. It can be transmitted through unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex with an infected person, even if the person has no symptoms.
What can it do to me?
In women, gonorrhea can cause a serious infection of the womb and tubes (pelvic inflammatory disease). It can lead to infertility and ectopic or tubal pregnancy.
In men, gonorrhea can cause sterility and burning or discomfort when urinating.
Gonorrhea may also cause eye infection and arthritis. If you are pregnant, gonorrhea can also be passed on to your baby during vaginal birth. This can lead to a serious eye infection in the infant.
What are the tests?
There are a few ways you can be tested for gonorrhea. A swab can be taken from the infected area (cervix, urethra, rectum, throat or eye).
For men having sex with men, with unprotected sex at the rectal and throat sites, sample collection is recommended from these areas.
For women, the preferred testing is either urine testing or a cervical swab. Many women assume STIs are tests are also performed during their annual Pap exam. This is not the case. However, it’s a good idea to ask for one during your Pap exam.
It is important that you talk to your health care provider about the appropriate testing for you.
What are the treatments?
Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics. With one injection and 4 pills, symptoms may start to disappear in a few days. However, you won’t know that the infection is completely cured until you finish the treatment. Do not have sex—even with a condom—until 7 days after you’ve finished all medication.
Free treatment is available at your local public health unit.
Do I need to follow up?
Yes, sometimes your doctor or sexual health clinic will schedule a follow-up test. These tests are just to make sure your infection has been treated effectively. The follow up test should be done at least 1 week after you’ve finished your treatment.
- Take all your medication as prescribed by the doctor or sexual health clinic.
- If you have an untreated STI like gonorrhea, it’s easier to get other STIs such as HIV from a person who has it.
- It’s possible to have more than one infection at a time, so it’s important to be tested for other STIs.
How can I prevent it?
Practice safe sex. Use condoms. This will definitely lower the risk of getting gonorrhea or other STIs.
How do I tell my partner?
Your partner(s) need to be told that they could have an infection, even if there aren’t any symptoms. Men may not have signs of the disease for several days and women often have no signs, so they may have the infection and not know it. They will need to be tested and will need treatment if they have gonorrhea.
If you have concerns about telling your partner(s), contact a public health nurse. The public health nurse can suggest ways to handle the situation or they will contact your partner(s) for you. Of course, your name will be kept confidential.
If you decide to talk to your partner(s) yourself, learn how to talk comfortably about it.
When can I have sex again?
You can become sexually active seven days after you and your current sexual partner(s) have received treatment.
If you are worried or have more questions, contact your local public health unit.