Gonorrhea is an infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. A person can have gonorrhea more than once in his or her life.
A person may be infected without knowing it. Women with gonorrhea most often do not have symptoms. However, infected men generally have symptoms.
When a person has symptoms, they usually appear 2 to 7 days after transmission of the bacterium.
Symptoms of gonorrhea include the following:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Vaginal bleeding after sex and between periods (menstrual cycles)
- Abnormal discharge from the penis or anus
- Tingling or burning sensation when urinating
- Pain in the testicles or around the anus
- Sore throat
Mothers may pass on infections to their babies during childbirth. The infection can affect their eyes (conjunctivitis) or be generalized. They can have the following symptoms:
- For conjunctivitis: red, watery eyes
- For a generalized infection: septicemia (blood poisoning)
When to consult
If you have symptoms, or if you have had unprotected sex, see a health-care professional or contact Info-Santé 811.
Gonorrhea is treated with medication. Treatment heals infections completely. Infected people must receive treatment as soon as possible to avoid complications.
Medication to treat gonorrhea is free for those infected and for their sexual partners. To receive medication, infected people and their partners must first get a prescription. They can then obtain medicine at a pharmacy upon presentation of their health insurance card.
People treated for gonorrhea also receive treatment against chlamydia because they often have both infections at the same time.
Precautions to take during treatment
Treatment requires a certain amount of time to heal the infection. During this period, the person is still contagious.
In order not to spread gonorrhea or catch it again, the infected person and his or her partners must avoid having sex until they are healed.
Before having sex, the infected person and his or her partners must wait:
- Until the end of the treatment, if it involves taking pills for several days
- 7 days after treatment, if it involves a single dose
Also, they must wait until any symptoms are completely gone.
If they cannot wait, the infected person and his or her partners can use a condom. They may also use a sheet of latex) to cover the vulva or anus during oral sex. This way, the mouth does not come into direct contact with the genitals. A sheet of latex can be made by unrolling a condom, cutting off both ends and then cutting it lengthwise.
People with gonorrhea should inform their sexual partners immediately. This way:
- They can avoid getting gonorrhea again from untreated partners
- Their partners can quickly get tested, receive appropriate treatment and avoid complications
- Their partners can avoid spreading the infection to other people
If left untreated, gonorrhea can last several months and lead to complications, even in people with no symptoms.
Possible complications include:
- Chronic pain in the lower abdomen
- Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy in the fallopian tubes)
- Testicular infection
Gonorrhea also increases the risk of getting or spreading HIV.
A pregnant woman with gonorrhea is at risk of delivering prematurely or having a miscarriage. For further information, read the Sexually Transmitted and Blood-borne Infections (STBBIs) and Pregnancy page.
In infected new-borns, gonorrhea can cause serious eye infection that can lead to blindness.
An infected person can spread gonorrhea even if he or she has no symptoms.
Sexual transmission can occur during:
- Oral sex (contact of the mouth with the penis, vulva, vagina or anus)
- Vaginal sex (penetration of the vagina with the penis)
- Anal sex (penetration of the anus with the penis)
- Genital contact between partners
- Sharing of sex toys
Sexual transmission can occur in the absence of penetration, orgasm or ejaculation.
An infected mother can pass on gonorrhea to her baby during childbirth.
Protection and prevention
There is no vaccine to protect against gonorrhea.
For the best protection against gonorrhea, use a condom:
- During all contact between genital organs
- During the entire course of oral, vaginal or anal sex
- With each sexual encounter
The use of a sheet of latex to cover the vulva or anus during oral sex lowers the risk of spreading gonorrhea. It helps prevent direct contact between the mouth and the genitals. A sheet of latex can be made by unrolling a condom, cutting off both ends and then cutting it lengthwise.
Sex toys should not be shared. People who share sex toys can lower the risk of spreading gonorrhea by covering them with a condom. They must change condoms between each partner.
A person who has had unprotected sex should consult a health-care professional to see if he or she needs to be tested. This way, a person with gonorrhea can avoid passing it on to other people and prevent complications.
Testing for gonorrhea is done by analysing urine sample or secretions collected from the vagina, cervix, urethra, anus or throat.
To be tested, consult a health-care professional or call Info-Santé 811.
Last update: March 9, 2017