...Here's How to Avoid Catching It
Gonorrhoea cases have reached record levels in the UK. This sexually transmitted infection has been around for centuries but seems to be having a resurgence, particularly among young people. There were 82,592 diagnoses of gonorrhoea in the first 9 months of 2022 - a 50% increase compared to 2021.
It is the second most common bacterial STI, after chlamydia.
Gonorrhoea is an infection every sexually active person should be aware of - especially if you change partners frequently. So how do you know if you have gonorrhoea, and how can you avoid catching it?
How do I know if I have gonorrhoea?
If you've had unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex and are worried you may have been exposed to a gonorrhoea infection, here are some common symptoms to look out for:
- Pain, discomfort, or a burning sensation when urinating
- Unusual discharge from your penis or vagina
- Experiencing vaginal bleeding or pain during sex
- Rectal pain, discharge or bleeding
- Sore throat or swollen glands
Some people may not experience any symptoms at all. If you experience symptoms or are concerned about having contracted gonorrhoea, it is important to stop any sexual activity until you undergo testing and get your results.
How is a gonorrhoea infection spread?
The bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae cause gonorrhoea, and it can infect the moist and warm areas of the body, such as the urethra, vagina, anus, or throat. Infected semen and vaginal fluid spread gonorrhoea. You can catch it by having unprotected sexual contact with someone who has the infection. This includes oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex. In addition, gonorrhoea can spread through the sharing of sex toys or from a mother to her baby during delivery.
How soon can gonorrhoea be detected after sex?
The time required to detect gonorrhoea after sex may vary depending on the type of test used. Most tests will pick up an infection within 3 days of exposure. However, in some cases, the detection of gonorrhoea may take up to 14 days after exposure. This delay is due to the required time for the bacteria to multiply and for a sufficient quantity of the bacteria to be present for accurate detection through a test. This is called the window period.
If you have had sexual contact with someone who has gonorrhoea, it’s important to undergo testing as soon as possible, even if you do not experience any symptoms. If your first result is negative, but you subsequently begin to experience symptoms, you should take another test.
Testing for gonorrhoea
If you think you have been exposed to gonorrhoea or any other sexually transmitted infection (STI), it is advised to undergo testing immediately. You could do this by going to a sexual health clinic, but the easiest and most convenient way is with a home STI test.
You can buy a home STI test from iPlaySafe here. A test consists of taking a blood and urine sample in the comfort of your own home. Once you have taken your samples, you can return them to our lab in the pre-envelope provided. We send your test results straight to the iPlaySafe app within 2-5 working days. It's a fast, discreet, and accurate way to test for gonorrhoea and other STIs.
Can gonorrhoea be cured?
Of course! Appropriate medical treatment can cure gonorrhoea. Usually, the infection is treated with antibiotics including ceftriaxone, cefixime, or azithromycin.
It is essential to complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if your symptoms subside before finishing the medication. This ensures the complete elimination of all bacteria and helps prevent the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhoea.
After completing the treatment, you should take another test to confirm the complete eradication of the infection. It's best to do this 1-2 weeks after treatment. It's also really important that you avoid any sexual activity during treatment and retesting, to prevent re-infection or spreading the infection to others.
Can gonorrhoea go away on its own?
The symptoms of gonorrhoea may go away on their own, but this does not mean the infection has been cured. It's possible for the bacteria to still be present in your body and to continue to cause damage. Even if your symptoms go away, there is still a risk of transmitting the infection to someone else. Gonorrhoea left untreated can lead to potentially serious complications including infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and an increased risk of HIV transmission.
Where does gonorrhoea come from?
The history of gonorrhoea can be traced back to ancient times. The symptoms of the disease were first described in ancient Greece by Hippocrates around 400 BC, who referred to it as "the flow of seed" and recognised it as a sexually transmitted disease.
Gonorrhoea has been a significant public health problem throughout history. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, untreated gonorrhoea was a leading cause of blindness in newborns and a major cause of infertility in women. It was not until the development of antibiotics in the mid-20th century that effective treatment became available.
How can I avoid catching gonorrhoea?
Gonorrhoea remains one of the most common sexually transmitted infections worldwide, with an estimated 87 million new cases each year. The best way to avoid catching gonorrhoea (or other infections, for that matter!) is to practice safe sex.
Communicate. If you're getting intimate with someone new - make sure you know their sexual history. When was their last STI test?
Protect. If you don't know the sexual health status of your sex partner, use appropriate contraception, like a condom.
Test. Be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to your sexual health. You and a new partner should take tests before you get intimate. You can buy home STI test kits here.