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What is gonorrhea? Is it curable?
Dec 14, 1998

If your partner has had Gonorrhea and has been treated, does it re-occur (like herpes), or gone for good after treatment? I don't know that much about the disease. Please help.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question. Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that is primarily spread through vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse and giving oral sex.

When symptoms are present, they generally begin 2 to 7 days after infection, but it may sometimes take longer than this for symptoms to appear. Symptoms in men can include a burning sensation when he pees (urinates), and a discharge from the penis. In women, there could be a burning sensation when she pee's (urinates), an unusual vaginal discharge, an abnormally heavy period, or abdominal pain. Rectal gonorrhea (from anal intercourse) in men or women can cause rectal discomfort, pain, and itching. When gonorrhea gets into the throat during oral sex, it can occasionally cause a sore throat.

Left untreated, in men, gonorrhea can cause ongoing pain during urination, and can also cause infertility (inability to have a child). In women, left untreated, gonorrhea can cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), a very serious complication. Gonorrhea can also cause infertility in women.

In both men and women, if gonorrhea is left untreated, the infection can make its way into the bloodstream and cause a serious (and potentially fatal) complication called Disseminated Gonococcal Infection (DGI). However, DGI is now a very rare complication in places where antibiotics are readily available.

It is important to remember that in both men and women, it is possible to have the infection, and have no symptoms at all. Therefore, just because a person has no symptoms, does not necessarily mean they are not infected.

Only a doctor can diagnose gonorrhea through laboratory tests. Testing will generally detect the infection within the first month after infection, and also when symptoms are present. Laboratory testing is especially important, since the symptoms of gonorrhea (if they are present at all) closely resemble those of other infections. For example, the symptoms of gonorrhea closely resemble those of other STDs (such as chlamydia or NSU/NGU). In addition, gonococcal symptoms also resemble those of urinary tract infections and other types of bacterial infections. These tests usually involve taking a swab sample from the suspected site of the infection, such as the urethra of the penis in men (not a pleasant experience!), the cervix in women, or from the throat or rectum.

Gonorrhea is curable with certain types of antibiotics. There is no immunity against gonorrhea. Therefore, a person can get this infection again and again, if they get re-exposed to this infection. But if a person is not re-exposed, antibiotics will get rid of the infection, as long as the medications are taken exactly as prescribed. If a person has been diagnosed with gonorrhea, it is strongly recommended that all of their sexual partners get treated as well, regardless of whether they are having symptoms or not.

If a person gets gonorrhea, this indicates that they were not adequately protecting themselves against STDs. If you get one STD, you may be infected with others as well. For example, many people who have gonorrhea also have chlamydia at the same time. Because of this, when a person has gonorrhea, we routinely treat for chlamydia as well. It is also recommended that anyone with any STD (including gonorrhea) get tested and examined for other STDs as well, including hepatitis B, herpes, syphilis, genital warts, and others. It is also recommended that persons with gonorrhea get tested for HIV as well. This is because gonorrhea, (and other STDs such as chlamydia, herpes, and syphilis) can increase the risk of getting HIV, since these STDs allow HIV to have an easier access to the bloodstream, leading to infection. In a person who has gonorrhea and HIV at the same time, the gonococcal infection can also make HIV more infectious to others, since gonorrhea can allow the HIV viral load in semen (and perhaps vaginal secretions) to increase. It is therefore strongly recommended that persons with gonorrhea also get tested for HIV.

In summary, gonorrhea is a curable STD, but left untreated, can cause severe complications.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).



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