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sexual health pages
What is it?
Also known as “clap” or “a dose”, gonorrhoea is an infection caused by a bacterium, Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
How is it transmitted?
This infection is very easy to pass on - any combination of oral, genital and anal sexual activities can transmit the germ. It cannot be caught through social contact such as kissing or touching or from towels (or that good old favourite, the toilet seat!)
What parts of the body are affected?
The bacteria live in warm, moist places inside the body - this includes the urethra (“water passage”), the throat and the rectum.
What are the symptoms?
This depends on the part of the body affected. Most men with throat or rectal infection will have no symptoms, although occasionally the latter can produce irritation, discharge and pain in the anal area. Gonorrhoea affecting the urethra usually (but not always) results in a discharge (clear or yellow) or pain on passing urine. If symptoms occur, this is commonly between 2 and 12 days after coming into contact with the infection.
How is gonorrhoea diagnosed?
Specimens can gently be taken from any parts of your body where you may have been at risk of infection. For the test from the urethra, it’s best if you haven’t just passed urine, as this lowers the chance of diagnosing the infection accurately. The specimens will be examined under the microscope while you are in the clinic and are also sent to the laboratory for further tests.
What is the treatment?
Gonorrhoea is usually very easily treated by antibiotic tablets. It is most important that you do not have sex until you have been back for follow-up tests. This is necessary for two reasons - sometimes the infection is resistant to the antibiotic given and a second drug has to be given. Also, the tests may show another infection - gonorrhoea is often the first to show itself and may mask others. Untreated, gonorrhoea can lead to serious problems with the prostate gland (which helps make semen), and sometimes the testicles in men, and to pelvic inflammatory disease (which can cause infertility) in women.
What about my partner?
As gonorrhoea is so easily passed on from one person to another it’s usually best if you discuss things with your recent partners. Before you tell your partner, be sure that you yourself are clear about the facts and feel confident. Reassure them that it is quite likely that they may not be noticing any symptoms, but could still be carrying the infection. The health adviser at the GUM Clinic can help prepare you for telling your partner.
For further information on this and a range of other important sexual health issues, contact the GUM Clinic or Gay Men’s Health.
GUM Clinic, Level 4, Lauriston Building, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
Phone (0131) 536 2103
Images courtesy of the Steve Retson Project
Last updated 20th May 2004
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