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Sexually Transmitted Disease Facts

Type of Infection: Gonorrhea is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria.

Modes of Transmission of Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea is transmitted by any type of sexual activity, including vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

Prevalence of Gonorrhea: The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 700,000 persons in the U.S. get new gonorrheal infections each year. Only about half of these infections are reported.

Symptoms of Gonorrhea: Though some cases may be asymptomatic, when symptoms do appear, they are often mild and usually appear within 2-10 days after exposure. The symptoms include discharge from the penis, vagina, or rectum and burning or itching during urination. In women, gonorrhea can cause menstrual irregularities.

Treatment of Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea infection can generally be cured with antibiotics. However, it cannot undo physical damage done prior to treatment.

Danger! According to the US Centers for Disease Control, gonorrhea is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. In Hawaii, 13% of cases are resistant, and in some Asian countries, the rate is as high as 40%. Successful treatment of gonorrhea is becoming ever more difficult.

Possible Consequences of Gonorrhea for the Infected Person: Untreated in women, the disease is a major cause of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) , which can lead to ectopic pregnancy, infertility, and chronic pelvic pain. In fact, 40% of untreated women develop pelvic inflammatory disease. Gonorrhea can cause sterility in men. Untreated gonorrhea can infect the joints, heart valves, and the brain.

Possible Consequences of Gonorrhea for the Fetus and Newborn: The transmission rate from mother to newborn is 30%. Gonorrhea can cause blindness and systemic diseases such as meningitis and septic arthritis in infants infected during delivery. To prevent blindness, all newborns delivered in hospitals have their eyes treated with medication specific for gonorrhea.

Prevention of Gonorrhea: Abstaining from all sexual contact with an infected person is the only 100% effective means of prevention. Latex condoms can reduce but not eliminate the risk of contracting the disease during sex.

Source: W Cates, "Reproductive Tract Infections," In Hatcher et al, Contraceptive Technology, Ardent Media, 2005.
Photo Source: Public Health Agency of Canada, Division of STD Prevention, STD Self Directed Learning Module, Slide Gallery, "Other STIs and Genital Conditions," www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/slm-maa/slides/index-eng.php; Centers for Disease Control, Public Health Image Library (PHIL), phil.cdc.gov/phil.