Causes of Gonorrhoea

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Gonorrhoea is caused by a bacterial infection of the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacteria that is found within the human body. It infects certain cells in the body called mucosal cells and it can rapidly grow and divide within these cells, especially in warm moist areas. The bacteria do not survive outside the body as they are very sensitive to drying and can be killed rapidly by sunlight or ultraviolet light.  Therefore in order to avoid this, they must be passed by intimate person-to-person contact so they can survive which explains why gonorrhoea is usually passed through sexual contact.

The bacteria cause an excess of discharge/pus in the mucosal cell surfaces that they infect which gives rise to the discharge symptoms in the infected areas. They mainly target the reproductive tract of women and the urethra of men. Once inside the body, there is an incubation time of 2-7 days and symptoms will usually start to appear after this time frame in the infected area. The main areas affected by the bacteria are the warm moist environments such as the reproductive tract- including the vagina, cervix, fallopian tubes- the urethra, the throat and the eyes.

Like many bacteria, its treatment is through antibiotics and this has become somewhat of an issue as the bacteria became resistant to penicillin – the first effective treatment against it – and then recently it has become resistant to other antibiotics so a combination of a group of cephalosporins is needed to keep this bacteria in check.

How is gonorrhoea spread?

As gonorrhoea is caused by bacteria that thrive in a warm, moist environment, then it is easily spread through sexual contact. The penis, vagina, anus and the mouth can spread the infection and ejaculation does not need to occur in order for it to be spread. Therefore it is very easily spread from person to person especially if the person who is infected has multiple sleeping partners.  It can be spread by touching the infected area and then rubbing your eye immediately afterwards as well as sharing sex toys that have not been thoroughly cleaned but it is not spread by shaking hands with an infected person or via toilet seats as the bacteria would not survive that long outside the body.  It can be spread from just one sexual encounter and statistics show that if a woman sleeps with a man that has been infected, there is a 50% chance of her contracting gonorrhoea. There is a 20% chance of an infected woman passing on the infection to a man.

A misconception about gonorrhoea is that once you have had it, you will not get it again. This is completely wrong – anyone who has sexual relations with a partner who is infected has the chance of being infected with even if they’ve contracted it ten times already!

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