Promiscuity has always had its risks, but years ago if an STD was caught, treatment was as “simple” as getting a shot of penicillin in the derriere, not to worry (so we were told). However, those days are gone forever. Besides the deadly risk of AIDS and other critical illnesses, there are offshoots of gonorrhea and other STDs that are becoming very resistant to traditional drug treatment. Gonorrhea is still a serious health issue, and nothing to play around with.
What Is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is one of the most common Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) in the world, and is very contagious. It primarily infects the genitourinary tract of both men and women, but it is capable of spreading to any mucous membrane area of the body, including the rectum, throat, and eyes. Systematic infections can also occur that may attack the heart, brain, reproductive system, and joints, and gonorrhea may also be passed from mother to infant during birth. Gonorrhea is caused by a bacterium called neisseria gonorrhoeae, and is primarily treated with penicillin and other antibiotics. Slang terms for the illness include “the clap” and “the drip.”
Despite public health efforts to educate folks on preventative measures, gonorrhea is still the number one reportable disease in the United States. There are over 800,000 new cases reported in the U. S. every year, and the incidence in undeveloped countries is even higher, at over 200 million per year worldwide. Over 80% of cases in the U.S. are found in the 15-29 year old age group. The number of cases began to drop significantly beginning in the 1970’s due mainly to widespread use of more affective medications, and have declined even further since 1987 due to increased public awareness of the dangers of HIV infections. However, there is concern that gonorrhea may again gain a foothold due to strains that are resistant to antibiotic therapy.
What Are the Symptoms of Gonorrhea?
Signs usually appear within 2-10 days after exposure. However, some individuals may be asymptomatic for up to two months. This makes it easy to spread to others without even knowing it if one has multiple sexual partners.
- General symptoms include a butty, thick, or bloody discharge from the penis or vagina, which sometimes may be white or yellowish.
- Painful urination
- Burning sensation upon urination
- Painful intercourse
- Fever, chills, nausea, vomiting are also a possibility
- Oral infections, usually contracted from oral sex, may exhibit sore throat and painful swallowing
- Rectal infections may include signs such as rectal discharge and/or rectal itching.
Men and women have distinct symptoms:
- Men typically experience a tingling sensation in the urethra, followed by an initial discharge from the penis. As the disease progresses, the discharge may increase, thicken, and urination becomes painful.
- Women are usually less symptomatic than men. This can be particularly dangerous, as the infection can spread to the cervix and throughout their reproductive system before they are even aware of it. Some women will experience painful or more frequent urination, and/or a discharge from the urethra or vagina. Sometimes abdominal pain or spotting between periods may also occur.
What Causes Gonorrhea?
The greatest risk factor for developing gonorrhea is frequent intercourse with multiple partners. Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a very efficient bug. Sexual contact, either through intercourse, oral sex, or anal sex, is the highest risk factor, but the bacterium is so contagious that contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids can pass the disease, even without sexual contact. You have a 60-90% chance of contracting gonorrhea after only one sexual contact with an infected person. That is a very sobering statistic. The highest incidence is in urban areas amongst individuals who are promiscuous with multiple partners.
Special attention should be paid to symptoms in children. Any irritation, swelling, or unusual discharge from the genitals, or changes in urination patterns, including pain, should be noted and gonorrhea could be a possibility. Gonorrhea in a child is also a red flag for sexual abuse. However, there have been cases where children have gotten gonorrhea simply by being exposed to infected materials.
Newborns can develop gonorrhea from their mother during the birth process, and it can potentially lead to blindness in the child. There are very good treatments to protect infants, the main one being application of silver nitrate or other medications directly to the eyes of the newborn immediately after birth.
How Can I Be Checked for Gonorrhea?
The most definitive test involves taking a sample of any discharge you might have, and having it examined under a microscope with the help of a dye. Some of these tests can give results very quickly, so that often treatment can be prescribed on the initial visit to your health care provider. The test is very accurate for men, but not as accurate for women. It is important to know that gonorrhea often accompanies other STDs, and vice-versa. If you have been diagnosed with gonorrhea, be sure you are tested for other STDs, and if you are found positive for any STD, get tested for gonorrhea as well. It is crucial to know for sure what diseases you may have in order to get proper treatment, and to keep from spreading them to others. Syphilis and Chlamydia are the most common STDs that accompany gonorrhea.
What Complications Can Occur from Gonorrhea?
Left untreated, gonorrhea can become a critical health issue that can have life long effects on your health, and the health of others you may infect. Some of the more common and serious complications include:
- Sterility: Gonorrhea can cause sterility in both men and women, but the incidence of infertility is greater in females.
- Infection in and inflammation of the prostate, testicles, and other parts of the reproductive and genitourinary tract in men. These complications are sometimes responsible for sterility. This condition is known as epididymitis.
- Inflammation, scarring, and abscesses in the urinary tract of both men and women.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): This serious and dangerous infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes can result in sterility and increase the risk for ectopic pregnancy (a fertilized egg that grows outside of the uterus). PID can exhibit irregular menstrual periods, painful intercourse, malodorous vaginal discharges, and abdominal pain. PID necessitates immediate treatment.
- Conjunctivitis: This is an eye infection that can be contracted when fluids infected with the gonorrhea bacterium are brought into contact with the eye. This is the same condition that can cause blindness in newborns from mothers with gonorrhea.
- Body-wide systemic infections: This rare, but serious, complication can cause a victim to develop fever, skin lesions and sores, rash, and painful, swollen, stiff joints. In even rarer cases, infection can spread through the blood stream to the heart valves and brain, becoming extremely critical.
- Pediatric gonorrhea: While the biggest danger to infants from gonorrhea is conjunctivitis and possible blindness at birth, some children may have the illness spread throughout their entire bodies. This can cause a blood-borne infection that can affect their whole system. Infection often settles in the joints of infants.
- Pharyngeal gonorrhea: Oral sex with an infected person can lead to infections, swelling, and pain in the throat and tonsils.
- Rectal gonorrhea: Anal sex, either heterosexual or homosexual, can expose the gonorrhea bacterium to the ano-rectal area. This can result in pain and discharge, although it is sometimes asymptomatic.
How is Gonorrhea Treated?
While there are new drugs available, the mainstay for the treatment of gonorrhea has always been penicillin or penicillin-like drugs, usually given by injection, but may be taken orally in some cases. Erythromycin is usually the second choice for those who can’t tolerate penicillin or for pregnant women. However, treating gonorrhea is getting more complicated and expensive, as more a more strains become immune to these antibiotics. It is estimated that more than 30% of gonorrhea strains are currently immune to antibiotics, and the number is increasing every year.
Patients are encouraged to refrain from sexual relations until the gonorrhea has been successfully treated, and any partners of the patients are urged to be tested and treated as well, if necessary. Providers are required by law to report any cases of gonorrhea and other STDs to public health officials. Females may be referred to a gynecologist , and males to a urologist, for further treatment and monitoring.
I am not a big fan of antibiotics, but gonorrhea is a serious infection that must be arrested. In such a case, antibiotics are usually appropriate. I would suggest using a high quality probiotic to replenish the friendly bacteria that antibiotics often destroy. Topical application of a live–culture yogurt is also recommended.
Obviously, abstinence from relations or being monogamous is the best preventative measure against gonorrhea or any other STD. Monogamy is the way our bodies and spirits were designed to function best, and there are many reasons for that. Protection from disease is one of the major ones. If you are not monogamous or have not been in the past, I encourage you to be tested often for gonorrhea and other STDs. If you have contracted anything, you’ll want to catch it as early as possible.
If you are currently being treated, you may want to consider certain herbal remedies that can help strengthen your immune system and help you to heal faster. Try lots of zinc, vitamin C, and garlic. Eat a whole foods diet as well, that includes a large amount of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fasting along with ample amounts of fresh water has also been helpful for some folks. Be sure to schedule a follow up exam after the antibiotic treatment has run its course to be positive that all of the infection (and associated infections) has cleared up.
Educate yourself and be aware of the possible side effects of the various drugs that may be prescribed to you. As with any allopathic treatment, there are many choices when it comes to medications. Most physicians won’t take the time to educate you about options and particular hazards that you may or may not want to risk. (Many of them are not even aware of the hazards themselves). Information sheets from your pharmacist can be an invaluable tool, especially if you are not dealing with a drug you are familiar with. Take time to read and ask questions. It could save your life!
Once considered a plague of the past by many folks, gonorrhea is still a very real threat to the health of many people, especially those with high-risk sexual behaviors. It is easy to avoid this disease, but it is critical to take care of it if you do contract it. Your actions may affect you and future generations within your family as well.