Gonorrhoea

What is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is a curable bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Gonorrhoea can infect the cervix (neck of womb), urethra (the tube through which you pass urine), the uterus (womb), fallopian tubes, ovaries, testicles, rectum (back passage), pharynx (throat) and sometimes the eyes.

Men will usually notice a discharge from the tip of the penis but women are less likely to have any symptoms.

How common is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) in Ireland.

It is found most frequently in young people under the age of 25 and in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM).

How do I get gonorrhoea?

In most cases, gonorrhoea is passed from one person to another through:

  • condomless sex (oral, vaginal and anal)
  • rimming (mouth-to-anus contact)
  • using unwashed sex toys
  • to babies during delivery

You cannot get gonorrhoea by:

  • hugging
  • kissing
  • swimming pools or saunas
  • toilet seats
  • sharing cutlery or towels

What symptoms would I have with gonorrhoea?

Many people with gonorrhoea don't have symptoms. One in 10 men and 7 in 10 women have no symptoms. If symptoms do occur they can include: 

Men

  • Discharge or liquid from the tip of the penis
  • Burning pain when passing urine
  • pain and swelling in one or both testicles

Women

  • bleeding after sex
  • bleeding between periods
  • change in normal vaginal discharge
  • pain passing urine
  • pain in your abdomen

Some people may have bowel symptoms such as diarrhoea, pain, mucus discharge or bleeding from the back passage.

How can I be tested for gonorrhoea?

The type of test will depend on your symptoms.

Gonorrhoea is diagnosed on a urine sample or a vaginal swab. Sometimes a swab is taken from the throat or rectum.

How is gonorrhoea treated?

Gonorrhoea is treated with antibiotics.

Treatment usually consists of an injection into the bum muscle.  

Sometimes you will be treated straight away, without waiting for the result of a gonorrhoea test. This will happen, for example, if your partner is known to be infected or if you have symptoms.

You will be asked to return for a repeat test to make sure the infection has gone. The repeat test is usually done two weeks after treatment.

What about my partner?

If you have gonorrhoea, your current partner (or partners) will also be offered testing and treatment.

It is important that all of the people you have recently been in sexual contact with are given the option to be tested and treated. Your healthcare provider will discuss this with you.

When can I have sex again?

You should avoid sex (even oral sex or sex with a condom) with anyone until after you have finished your treatment.

It's really important that you don't have sex with your partner before they are tested and treated as you could become infected again.

What happens if my gonorrhoea is left untreated?

In men:

Gonorrhoea can spread from the urethra (the tube through which you pass urine) to the testicles and cause pain (a condition called epididymo-orchitis). In some rare cases this affects fertility.

In women:

Gonorrhoea may spread internally from the cervix (neck of the womb) to the uterus (womb), and then up into the fallopian tubes and ovaries. This can lead to pelvic infection and pain - a condition called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).

PID can lead to scarring of the fallopian tubes and increase the risk of infertility and ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that occurs outside the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes).

In both men and women:

Rarely gonorrhoea can spread to the blood (septicaemia) or joints and lead to serious infection.

How can I prevent myself from getting gonorrhoea again?

Using condomscorrectly and every time you have sex will reduce your likelihood of getting gonorrhoea and other STIs.

If you have a new partner it is a good idea for both of you to have STI tests.

Gonorrhoea in pregnancy

If you are pregnant and you have gonorrhoea, it is important that you get it treated to prevent your baby catching the infection during childbirth. In newborn babies, gonorrhoea may cause redness of the eyes (conjunctivitis).

If you need to be treated while you're pregnant, your antenatal will make sure that the antibiotic prescribed is safe to take while you are pregnant.

If you need treatment while you're pregnant, you should make sure that you are re-tested after finishing your gonorrhoea treatment. This is to make sure that you have a negative gonorrhoea test before you give birth, ensuring that your baby will not be infected.

Download the Gonorrhoea leaflet here.