Everything You (Maybe) Ever Wanted to Know About Gonorrhea

Everything You (Maybe) Ever Wanted to Know About Gonorrhea

Whatever your personal experience is (or isn’t) with gonorrhea, most people know its nickname is “the clap,” but do you know why or what this not-so-funny STI is all about?

“The clap” might be a reference to the French term “clapier,” which means brothel, where many contracted the disease. It might also be an allusion to an early treatment for the ailment in which a heavy object was clapped on the man’s genitals to get discharge to come out. There’s an old joke that goes, “If you spread it around, is it called applause?”

But all joking aside, gonorrhea is serious business and it’s getting harder to treat.

The facts:

  • You can get gonorrhea by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the STI.
  • Symptoms include painful urination, itching and a pus-like discharge from the penis, vagina or anus, or a sore throat (in throat infections).
  • According to the CDC, 350,062 cases of gonorrhea were reported in the United States in 2014.
  • It is most common among young people ages 15-24 years.
  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia frequently exist together in the same person so treatment should tackle both STIs.
  • Treatments vary depending on the strain contracted and include injectable or oral medications. Sometimes one antibiotic is given, othertimes combination therapy is administered.

Most women with gonorrhea do not have symptoms. Even when she does, symptoms are often mild and easily mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection.

While treatment for the STI has been successful in the past, NPR reports that “Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterium that causes gonorrhea, is developing resistance to the antibiotics that have successfully treated it for decades.” So if your symptoms continue for more than a few days after receiving treatment, you should return to your doctor to be checked again.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae
Neisseria gonorrhoeae

One of the main reasons for the resistance, doctors find, is unprotected oral sex. This is because, “throat infections after oral sex are often mistaken for strep throat or another infection by doctors, who prescribe antibiotics. When gonorrhea in patients’ throats are exposed to those drugs, the bacteria develop resistance to them.” A person who has the drug-resistant strain in their throat can then transmit it to their partner by performing oral sex.

While experts work on treatments against this new drug-resistent strain of gonorrhea (there has been success with combination therapy), a new study out of New Zealand has found a link between a vaccine that protects against a strain of meningitis and protection against the antibiotic-resistent STI.

You can help yourself avoid contracting gonorrhea by using condoms when you have sex and/or having an open discussion with your partner before sleeping together about your individual histories, etc. You might choose to get tested together just to be sure.

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