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Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is a common sexually transmitted bacterial infection. It can affect the penis, cervix (inside the vagina), anus, throat or eyes.

It’s transmitted through unprotected sex, either vaginal, anal or oral. A pregnant woman with gonorrhoea can also pass it onto her baby when she gives birth.
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How do I know if I have gonorrhoea?

You can’t always tell. Some people get gonorrhoea and have no symptoms, so you can pass it on without even knowing you have it.

If symptoms show, they appear within two to seven days after contact. For women, these include:

  • an unusual discharge from your vagina (sometimes yellow or bloody)
  • an itchy, swollen or red vagina
  • pain in your stomach
  • pain during sex
  • pain when you urinate.

Symptoms for men include:

  • thick, white or yellow discharge from the penis
  • burning pain when they urinate
  • swollen testicles.

Both men and women can get a gonorrhoeal infection in their anus, and symptoms include:

  • discharge
  • anal itching
  • soreness
  • bleeding.

Gonorrhoea can infect your throat too, via oral sex. It can lead to a sore throat, but sometimes there are no symptoms.

From mother to child

During birth, gonorrhoea can be passed from mother to baby and affect the baby’s eyes. Without quick treatment, the eye damage can be serious and permanent.

There are antibiotics that are safe for you to take when pregnant.

Preventing gonorrhoea

Practicing safer sex by using condoms every time you have sex (vaginal, anal or oral) will protect you from gonorrhoea. Body fluids like sperm, saliva, and vaginal lubricant can contain gonorrhoea, but condoms form a barrier that prevents the transfer of fluids. See condoms for advice on how to use them correctly.

Getting screened

If you have shown any of the symptoms of gonorrhoea, get tested straight away. For women, the doctor or nurse will take a sample from the cervix.

This means they take some tissue from inside the vagina with a long cotton bud, and send it to a lab to be looked at under a microscope.

For men, the doctor will take a sample from the opening of the penis. They may also take a urine sample, so it’s a good idea not to urinate for two hours prior to the test.

Your doctor or nurse can also examine a sample from your throat.

Many people infected with gonorrhoea also have chlamydia, another common STI. You can be tested and treated for this at the same time.

Treatment for gonorrhoea

Once you’ve started taking antibiotics, the infection should clear up in about seven days. You should avoid sex in that period of time.

About a month later you’ll need a check-up to make sure the infection is completely gone.

Your current sexual partner needs to get treated too, so you don’t pass the infection back and forth between you.

All your partners over the last three months should also be contacted and treated. This is called “contact tracing”. The doctor or nurse sometimes give you a letter to give to all your partners so they can go to a doctor for treatment. Otherwise, you must get in contact with them personally.

After your treatment is finished, if you have unprotected sex with somebody that has the infection, you can catch gonorhoea again.

Will it go away if I ignore it?

No, you need to treat gonorrhoea with antibiotics. If it’s not treated, gonorrhoea can lead to PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease) for women, or infertility for both men and women.

It can also increase your risk of getting or passing on HIV.

To find out where you can go for a sexual health check, check Think Contraception for a list of clinics around the country.

If I get tested, will the doctor tell my parents?

According to the law you can request and receive  medical care for yourself once you’re 16-years-old. At the sexual health clinic, the information you give the staff is completely confidential.

This information can’t be shared with your parents or people you know, unless the law requires it.

This can happen if health staff thought you were at risk of serious harm. In this case the clinic is required to report this to the duty social worker in the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Another example might be if your files were required in a court case.

Doctors are sometimes required to report the number of cases of gonorrhoea they diagnose to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre so they can monitor the disease in Ireland. Your details will not be used.

They don’t need to know who you are, they just need to keep track of how many people are getting the infection.

For more information on STIs or having a sexual health check-up, check Think Contraception.

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This article was last reviewed on 29 April 2017

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