Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus. These bacteria are mainly found in discharge from the penis and vaginal fluid from infected men and women. The bacteria can infect the cervix (entrance to the womb), the urethra (tube that carries urine out of the body), the rectum and, less commonly, the throat or eyes. The infection can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby.

How is it spread

The infection is easily passed between people through:

  • unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex
  • sharing vibrators or other sex toys that have not been washed or covered with a new condom each time they are used

Gonorrhoea is not spread by kissing, hugging, sharing baths or towels, swimming pools, toilet seats, or sharing cups, plates and cutlery, because the bacteria cannot survive outside the human body for long periods.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of gonorrhoea usually develop within about 10 days of being infected, although they sometimes may not appear until many months later. Around 1 in 10 infected men and almost half of infected women do not experience any symptoms.

Symptoms in women

  • an unusual vaginal discharge which may be thick and green or yellow in colour
  • pain or a burning sensation when passing urine
  • pain or tenderness in the lower abdominal area
  • bleeding between periods, heavier periods and sometimes, bleeding after sexual intercourse

Symptoms in men

  • an unusual discharge from the tip of the penis, which may be white, yellow or green
  • pain or a burning sensation when urinating
  • inflammation (swelling) of the foreskin
  • pain or tenderness in the testicles, although this is uncommon

Both men and women can also develop an infection in the rectum, eyes or throat by having unprotected anal or oral sex. If infected semen or vaginal fluid comes into contact with the eyes, you can also develop conjunctivitis. Infection in the rectum or eyes can cause discomfort, pain or discharge. Infection in the throat usually causes no symptoms.

Complications of Gonorrhoea

If treated early, gonorrhoea is unlikely to lead to any complications or long-term problems. Without prompt treatment, however, the infection can spread to other parts of your body and cause serious problems. The more times you have gonorrhoea, the more likely you are to get complications.

In women, gonorrhoea can spread to the reproductive organs and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can lead to long-term pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy and infertility.

If acquired during pregnancy, gonorrhoea can cause miscarriage or premature labour. The baby may be born with conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye) that poses a risk of progressive and permanent damage of vision, if the baby is not promptly treated with appropriate antibiotics.

In men, gonorrhoea can cause a painful infection in the testicles and prostate gland, which may lead to reduced fertility in some instances.

In rare cases, when gonorrhoea has been left untreated it can spread through the bloodstream and cause infections in other parts of your body, including:

  • inflammation and swelling of the joints and tendons
    skin irritation and redness
  • inflammation around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or the heart, which can be life threatening

Preventing the Spread

You should avoid having sex until you (and your partner) have been treated and given the all-clear to prevent re-infection or passing the infection on to anyone else. It is advisable to see your doctor if your symptoms do not improve after treatment or you think you have been infected again. Treatment may need to be repeated, or you may need further tests to check for other problems


Gonorrhoea is usually treated with a short course of antibiotics, usually a single antibiotic injection (in the buttocks or thigh) followed by one antibiotic tablet. All sexual partners should be treated and at the same time.
Symptoms will usually improve within a few days, although it may take up to two weeks for any pain in the pelvis or testicles to go away completely. A repeat test may be carried out a week or two after treatment to see if the infection has cleared.

For further information, contact the Infection Prevention and Control Department at St Bernard’s Hospital –
Telephone: 20072266 Ext 2315
E mail: infections@gha.gi