Testing for Gonorrhea

Of all the sexually transmitted diseases present in the UK, Gonorrhea is the second most common. The infection is caused by bacteria, a tiny microorganism called Neisseria gonorrhea from which the disease derives its name. The symptoms, testing, and treatment of Gonorrhea are discussed in this article.

What is Gonorrhea?

As mentioned above, Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection which is transmitted person to person via sexual contact. Barrier contraceptives like condoms are one of the best and most effective methods of avoiding the transmission of this illness, and any unprotected sexual contact carries with it some risk of the transfer of STIs.

The symptoms of Gonorrhea vary between men and women. Men will begin to present with signs of the infection between 3 and 5 days after transmission, and their symptoms will usually include a painful burning sensation during urination and a colored discharge from the end of the penis. In some cases men can also experience a painful swelling of the testes.

Some men don’t develop any symptoms of Gonorrhea at all, while others may take as long as 30 days to manifest any sign of illness. These cases are more of a concern because there is no way of telling if you are ill, and therefore you aren’t likely to take any steps towards treatment or prevention.

Women sometimes don’t show any clear signs of illness, but the most common symptoms are usually unusual bleeding (between periods), a yellow vaginal secretion, and pain during urination. Women suffer from a milder form of Gonorrhea, and so symptoms are usually less severe and often taken for UTIs (urinary tract infections). Despite the mildness of symptoms however, women can suffer from major complications if Gonorrhea is left untreated.

Gonorrhea can be passed on to babies if a pregnant women is suffering from the illness. Gonorrhea infected babies suffer serious illnesses including blindness and blood infection, which is one of the many reasons why Gonorrhea needs to be diagnosed and treated early.

The bacterium that causes Gonorrhea can actually survive and grow in the throat, mouth, and anus. For these reasons sexual contact with these areas can cause a Gonorrheal infection that presents with symptoms unique to the site of infection. Gonorrhea can also affect joints, and this is a particularly dangerous infection as it can be potentially life threatening.

Testing for Gonorrhea

The two tests used to check for the bacterium causing Gonorrhea are the urine test and the genital swab. The former is a straightforward matter of getting a urine sample and sending it off to a specialist lab. There the sample is ‘cultured’, which means that it is treated so that any bacteria present grow, allowing for an accurate diagnosis.

Genital swabs are obviously different for men and for women, but the principle remains the same. A nurse or doctor will take a sample from your genital tract, and this will be tested for the disease causing bacterium. As mentioned above, Gonorrhea most commonly inhabits the urethra, which is why swabbing the genitals (the urethra is part of what is called the urogenital tract) and testing urine (which passes through the urethra) are accurate ways of detecting the disease.

Gonorrhea can also inhabit other parts of the body, and if symptoms present there these areas may be swabbed for a test.

Where can I get a Gonorrhea test?

Gonorrhea tests are available at your GP’s or at a specialist sexual health clinic. If you go to either of these NHS based organizations, you will be given advice about how to manage your symptoms as well as about which tests are most appropriate to you. Sexual health clinics in particular are designed and operated to offer you confidentiality and support during what can be an otherwise embarrassing experience.

Private healthcare providers can also provide these tests, as can a number of mail order or internet based services which provide a more discreet option.

Treating Gonorrhea

Antibiotics are an excellent solution to the Gonorrhea infection, however because certain strains of bacteria are developing resistance to the drugs currently in use, current treatments are more intensive. Resistance is a property which certain bacteria develop over time when exposed to medications that, while effective in killing off the majority of disease causing bacteria, leave a few who have developed mechanisms that protect them from the drugs being used. Different approaches are needed to properly address resistant strains of bacteria.

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