Gonorrhea is an infection caused by a sexually transmitted bacterium that infects both males and females. Gonorrhea most often affects the urethra, rectum or throat. In females, gonorrhea can also infect the cervix.
Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The gonorrhea bacteria are most often passed from one person to another during sexual contact, including oral, anal or vaginal intercourse.
Sexually active women younger than 25 and men who have sex with men are at increased risk of getting gonorrhea.
Other factors that can increase your risk include:
- Having a new sex partner
- Having a sex partner who has other partners
- Having more than one sex partner
- Having had gonorrhea or another sexually transmitted infection
Untreated gonorrhea can lead to major complications, such as:
- Infertility in women. Gonorrhea can spread into the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can result in scarring of the tubes, greater risk of pregnancy complications and infertility. PID requires immediate treatment.
- Infertility in men. Gonorrhea can cause a small, coiled tube in the rear portion of the testicles where the sperm ducts are located (epididymis) to become inflamed (epididymitis). Untreated epididymitis can lead to infertility.
- Infection that spreads to the joints and other areas of your body. The bacterium that causes gonorrhea can spread through the bloodstream and infect other parts of your body, including your joints. Fever, rash, skin sores, joint pain, swelling and stiffness are possible results.
- Increased risk of HIV/AIDS. Having gonorrhea makes you more susceptible to infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that leads to AIDS. People who have both gonorrhea and HIV are able to pass both diseases more readily to their partners.
- Complications in babies. Babies who contract gonorrhea from their mothers during birth can develop blindness, sores on the scalp and infections.
To reduce your gonorrhea risk:
- Use a condom if you have sex. Abstaining from sex is the surest way to prevent gonorrhea. But if you choose to have sex, use a condom during any type of sexual contact, including anal sex, oral sex or vaginal sex.
- Limit your number of sex partners. Being in a monogamous relationship in which neither partner has sex with anyone else can lower your risk.
- Be sure you and your partner are tested for sexually transmitted infections. Before you have sex, get tested and share your results with each other.
- Don’t have sex with someone who appears to have a sexually transmitted infection. If your partner has signs or symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection, such as burning during urination or a genital rash or sore, don’t have sex with that person.
- Consider regular gonorrhea screening. Annual screening is recommended for sexually active women younger than 25 and for older women at increased risk of infection. This includes women who have a new sex partner, more than one sex partner, a sex partner with other partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted infection.
Regular screening is also recommended for men who have sex with men, as well as their partners.
To avoid getting gonorrhea again, abstain from sex until after you and your sex partner have completed treatment and after symptoms are gone.