Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a bacterium called Neisseria Gonorrhoeae. The disease thrives and reproduces in warm and moist areas. Gonorrhea is mainly passed from person to person with genital contact, but can also be spread via oral and anal intercourse.
Several areas can be susceptible to infection, and they include: cervix, urethra, throat, rectum, and even the uterus and fallopian tubes.
History of Gonorrhea
Similar to the initial perception of other STDs like Syphilis and Chlamydia, Gonorrhea used to be a strange and inexplicable disease. However, while other STDs were mistaken for viruses, Gonorrhea was always understood as being a disease spread through sexual contact.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, sailors would often spread the disease from port to port, and usually were treated by injections of mercury.
The history of the word originates from two Greek words gonorrhea which means “seed” and gonorrhea which means to flow. It alludes to the discharge that infected men emitted while urinating; a combination of puss and urine flow out of the penis, making puss the reference to the “seed.”
Gonorrhea is sometimes referred to as “the clap” because of the burning sensation men and women get while urinating. The stinging sensation in the genitals mimic a sort of clapping.
Symptoms of Gonorrhea
It is common during the early stages of Gonorrhea to experience no symptoms. Typically, if symptoms emerge they will do so approximately two to 10 days after exposure. Regrettably, individuals can be infected for several months without any signal of the disease, and this is where and when the most harm can be done to the body.
The symptoms that women experience include: irregular vaginal discharge, burning or pain while urinating, abdominal pain, non-menstrual bleeding, fatigue, fever, and vomiting. The latter symptoms are early signs of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Men do not experience the symptoms of Gonorrhea as much as women, but of the symptoms that can be detected they tend to include: a puss-like discharge from the penis (this can often be mistaken for semen) and extremely painful burning sensation during urination. These symptoms can appear as early as two to three days after exposure.
As Gonorrhea can also affect the rectum and throat, the symptoms associated with these areas include: irregular rectal discharge, anal itching, pain while moving bowels, sore throat, and severely sore and swollen throat.
There are several laboratory tests that can be done to detect Gonorrhea from any infected body part. If the disease exists in the cervix or urethra, a urine laboratory test can be conducted to confirm this.
The quickest way to test for Gonorrhea is a procedure called a Gram Stain. In this method, a sample is taken by a physician from the cervix or urethra and examined under a microscope to determine the existence of the bacteria. As the bacteria is sometimes especially more pronounced in men than in women, this microscope process works more accurately for men.
Treatment for Gonorrhea
Many STDs can be treated with penicillin, but because Gonorrhea is resistant to penicillin it is regularly treated by antibiotics such as Ceftriaxone. Doxycycline can also be used in conjunction with Ceftriaxone as Gonorrhea can be co-infected with Chlamydia. The combination of these antibiotics can remedy both STDs. Women who are pregnant cannot take Doxycycline and are often prescribed another antibiotic called Erythromycin.
Although many individuals who are prescribed antibiotics can experience relief of the painful symptoms quickly, it is very important to complete the course of medication. The disease can reappear rapidly and more antibiotics will have to be taken to combat the second invasion.
It is imperative to note that while medication can clear up any infection, if Gonorrhea has gone untreated for several months, the damage to the body is irreversible.
Getting all sexual partners tested and treated for Gonorrhea is crucial to avoid any possible reinfection.
What Happens if Gonorrhea Remains Untreated?
Gonorrhea can lead to serious complications if untreated. Many of the problems are permanent and include: infection of the joints, heart valves or brain.
In women, untreated Gonorrhea can lead to PID, which is dangerous as it leads to infertility. Women are also at risk for ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg is
located outside the uterus. This condition can be life-threatening if the proper precautions are not taken.
For infected men, untreated Gonorrhea can lead to Epididymitis, a swelling that occurs in the testicles. Epididymitis can lead to sterility for men, just as PID leads to infertility in women.
Pregnant women who are infected with Gonorrhea must take careful measure to facilitate treatment for their unborn child, as well as continue a defensive regimen treatment after the child is born. Newborns that are infected can experience conditions such as gonococcal infection of the eyes, which can lead to blindness.
The best way to prevent contracting Gonorrhea is to abstain from all sexual contact: vaginal, oral, and anal. If you have sexual intercourse, be sure that your partner is uninfected and that you only engage in intercourse with this person. Remember that even though an individual can say he or she is uninfected, unless a test comes back negative, one cannot be certain. Having yourself tested as well as all partners is a great safety precaution.
Wearing latex condoms can also greatly reduce the risk of becoming infected with Gonorrhea. Because Gonorrhea is hard to detect and lives in moist areas, using condoms are not 100% effective.
Getting tested regularly (once a year if sexually active) can detect if Gonorrhea is present, and early detection is key to getting treated and reducing permanent bodily damage.
Who Is at Risk for Contracting Gonorrhea?
- The following list includes those people that are at a higher risk of contracting Gonorrhea:
- People with new sexual partners
- Individuals with 2 or more sexual partners
- Individuals not practicing safe, protected sex
- People engaging in intercourse while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Street youth
- Adolescents between the ages of 16 and 24
- Drug users
- African Americans
- People (often poor) living in urban areas
Statistics about Gonorrhea
The following are some important statistics about Gonorrhea:
- 800,000 new cases of Gonorrhea are reported annually
- About 1 out of 339 Americans are infected with Gonorrhea, or 0.29% of the population
- There are approximately 400,000 unreported/undiagnosed cases of Gonorrhea
- The annual costs associated with Gonorrhea including subsequent treatment is $1.1 billion
- Over 5% of people between the ages of 18 to 35 do not know that they have Gonorrhea
- Of the women who get PID from Gonorrhea, 10% become infertile as a result of the disease
An individual infected with Gonorrhea is 3 to 5 times more likely to contract HIV, the deadly virus associated with AIDS
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