Gonorrhea

Young women's version of this guide

male symbolHave you heard of “the clap,” or “a dose,” or “a drip”? These are all names for gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted infection, or STI, caused by bacteria.

How common is gonorrhea?

There were a total of 468,514 cases of gonorrhea reported in the U.S. in 2016, which represents an 18.5% increase of reported cases from the previous year. There were likely many more cases of gonorrhea that were not reported. Most of the gonorrhea infections were among young people (both guys and girls) between the ages of 15 and 24.

Am I at risk?

If you are having unprotected sexual contact (penis, vagina, mouth, or anus) with another person, you may be at risk. Anyone having unprotected sexual contact with someone infected with gonorrhea can get gonorrhea.

How is gonorrhea spread?

Gonorrhea is spread through sex—oral, anal, and vaginal. Women are more likely to catch gonorrhea from men than men are from women. Gonorrhea is highly contagious between male sexual partners. Although less likely, women can also acquire gonorrhea from female sexual partners. Gonorrhea can also be passed to the eye by a hand or other body part carrying infected fluids.

What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?

You may not have any symptoms if you have gonorrhea. If you do have symptoms, they usually appear within 1-14 days after becoming infected. It’s important to know you can still pass gonorrhea on to others whether or not you have symptoms.

Possible symptoms of gonorrhea in guys include:

  • Milky white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis
  • A burning feeling when peeing
  • Pain and swelling in one testicle
  • Symptoms usually appear within 14 days of becoming infected

Possible symptoms of gonorrhea in girls include:

  • Vaginal discharge
  • A burning feeling when peeing
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis
  • Irregular periods

Symptoms of gonorrhea in both guys and girls include:

  • Sore throat (from gonorrhea in the throat)
  • Pain, discharge, and bleeding from the anus (from gonorrhea in the anus)
  • Redness, itching, or discharge of the eyes (from gonorrhea in the eye)
  • Joint swelling and skin rash (from gonorrhea in the joints and in the blood)

How is gonorrhea diagnosed?

Your health care provider can diagnose gonorrhea by testing a urine sample or a swab of the affected area (penis, vagina, cervix, anus, throat, and/or eye). It’s important to get tested so your health care provider can tell you whether you have gonorrhea, another STI, or negative results.

Is there a cure for gonorrhea?

YES. Gonorrhea infection is treated with antibiotics prescribed by your health care provider. The usual dose for uncomplicated infections of the throat, urethra, or rectum is just one dose of two antibiotics: a shot of ceftriaxone, plus azithromycin, which is taken by mouth. If you treat gonorrhea early, it is usually cured with antibiotics. In recent years, bacteria that causes gonorrhea has become resistant to some antibiotics (the drug no longer kills the bacteria). This means it is even more important for people infected to take all of their medicine on time. The earlier gonorrhea is treated, the easier it is to cure. If the infection goes untreated, it can spread and cause a more serious infection, which will need a longer course of antibiotics. You may even need to be hospitalized to treat the infection.

Is gonorrhea dangerous?

Gonorrhea can cause serious problems if it goes untreated. It can spread from one area of the reproductive tract to other surrounding parts. Girls who have had a pelvic infection with gonorrhea are more likely to have a pregnancy in the tube (“ectopic pregnancy”) or pelvic pain. There’s also a risk of gonorrhea spreading into the bloodstream and causing fever, chills, blisters on the skin, or inflammation (arthritis) of the joints.

How can I prevent spreading gonorrhea?

  • If you think you have gonorrhea, you should stop having sex. As long as you have gonorrhea, you can pass it on to someone else. You need to wait until you’ve finished all treatment with antibiotics. Your health care provider will tell you when it is safe to have sex again.
  • It is important that your current and recent sexual partners know that they have been exposed to someone with gonorrhea so that they can be tested and treated. Otherwise, your partner(s) can give gonorrhea to other people or back to you. If you find it awkward to tell your partners, talk to your health care provider about ways to make sure they’re informed and treated.
  • It is also important that all of your sexual partner(s) are treated. Find out if their health care provider has told them if it is safe to have sex again (before you think about having sex with them).
  • Make sure you use a latex (or polyurethane if you are allergic to latex) condom every time you have vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

How can I avoid getting gonorrhea?

The best way to keep from getting gonorrhea is to not have sexual intercourse. If you decide to have sexual intercourse, make sure you use a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

If you’re concerned about gonorrhea, here’s a tip on how to bring it up with your health care provider: It burns when I pee. Do I have an STI?