Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by infection with the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium. N. gonorrhoeae infects the mucous membranes of the reproductive tract, including the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes in women, and the urethra in women and men. N. gonorrhoeae can also infect the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, eyes, and rectum.
Gonorrhea is transmitted through sexual contact with the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus of an infected partner. Ejaculation does not have to occur for gonorrhea to be transmitted or acquired. Gonorrhea can also be spread perinatally from mother to baby during childbirth. People who have had gonorrhea and received treatment may be reinfected if they have sexual contact with a person infected with gonorrhea.
Many men with gonorrhea are asymptomatic. When present, signs and symptoms of urethral infection in men include dysuria or a white, yellow, or green urethral discharge that usually appears one to fourteen days after infection. In cases where urethral infection is complicated by epididymitis, men with gonorrhea may also complain of testicular or scrotal pain.
Most women with gonorrhea are asymptomatic. Even when a woman has symptoms, they are often so mild and nonspecific that they are mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. The initial symptoms and signs in women include dysuria, increased vaginal discharge, or vaginal bleeding between periods. Women with gonorrhea are at risk of developing serious complications from the infection, regardless of the presence or severity of symptoms.
Symptoms of rectal infection in both men and women may include discharge, anal itching, soreness, bleeding, or painful bowel movements. Rectal infection also may be asymptomatic. Pharyngeal infection may cause a sore throat, but usually is asymptomatic.
Urogenital gonorrhea can be diagnosed by testing urine, urethral (for men), or endocervical or vaginal (for women) specimens using nucleic acid amplification testing (NAAT). It can also be diagnosed using gonorrhea culture, which requires endocervical or urethral swab specimens. If a person has had oral and/or anal sex, pharyngeal and/or rectal swab specimens should be collected either for culture or for NAAT (if the local laboratory has validated the use of NAAT for extra-genital specimens).
Gonorrhea can be cured with the right treatment. CDC now recommends dual therapy (i.e. using two drugs) for the treatment of gonorrhea. It is important to take all of the medication prescribed to cure gonorrhea. Medication for gonorrhea should not be shared with anyone. Although medication will stop the infection, it will not repair any permanent damage done by the disease. Antimicrobial resistance in gonorrhea is of increasing concern, and successful treatment of gonorrhea is becoming more difficult. If a person’s symptoms continue for more than a few days after receiving treatment, he or she should return to a health care provider to be reevaluated.
Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of transmission of gonorrhea. The surest way to avoid transmission of gonorrhea or other STDs is to abstain from vaginal, anal, and oral sex, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.