Gonorrhoea is making a (pretty unwanted) comeback and rates of it increased by 22% from 2016 to 2017. Make sure know some key bits of information about gonorrhoea, including how to protect yourself from it and how to access services to test for it.
What is it?
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus. It used to be known as "the clap". You can have a gonorrhoea infection in your penis, vagina, bum, eyes and throat.
How common is it?
44,676 cases were diagnosed in 2017 which was an 22% increase from 2016. In 2017, gonorrhoea made up 11% of the overall number of STIs diagnosed. Gonorrhoea is the most common STI amongst men who have sex with men, and it accounted for 43% of STI diagnoses within this group.
How is it spread?
Gonorrhoea can be passed between people through:
unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex
sharing sex toys that haven’t been washed or covered with a new condom each time they're used
The bacteria can’t survive outside the human body for long so it isn’t be spread by things like toilet seats, sharing towels or hot tubs.
What are the symptoms?
If you have gonorrhoea, you might notice some of these symptoms a few weeks or months after sex:
an unusual discharge from the vagina or tip of the penis, which may be green or yellow in colour
pain or a burning sensation when passing peeing
swelling of the foreskin on a penis
discomfort, pain or discharge from the bum (if you have an infection in the rectum)
About 10% of infected people with a penis and 50% people with a vagina don’t notice any symptoms, so it’s worth getting checked out between each sexual partner just to be sure.
Read up more on symptoms on the NHS Choices website.
How do I get tested?
Testing is quick, easy and painless. It’s usually a self-taken swab of a vagina or a urine sample for those with a penis. If you have discharge from the penis, a swab may be run over the tip of your penis to collect a sample of the discharge – it’s not going up there though so don’t panic!
If you think you have an infection in the bum (if you’ve been receiving anal sex) then the doctor or nurse may need to use a swab to collect a sample from these areas, or you may be able to do the swab test yourself. You can get tested at Cobridge Community Health Centre.
What if I have it?
If your test comes back positive, don’t worry! Gonorrhoea is usually treated with a short course of antibiotics, which is normally just a quick injection in the buttocks or thigh followed by a tablet.
What happens if I don’t get treatment?
It’s important to get treated early because if caught early, gonorrhoea is unlikely to lead to any problems. If you don’t get treatment, it can cause serious problems:
In people with a vagina: pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), problems during pregnancy and infertility
In people with a penis: a painful infection in the balls (testicles) and prostate, which may lead to reduced fertility in a small number of cases
How do I protect myself from it?
The best way to protect yourself from gonorrhoea is to use condoms for oral, vaginal and anal sex. If you’re sharing sex toys, use a fresh condom on it for each partner, or wash thoroughly between each partner. Need better access to free condoms? Register for a C-Card!
Some strains of gonorrhoea are becoming antibiotic resistant, so it is important to protect yourself, as it can be difficult to get rid of the infection in rare cases.