Everything you need to know about Gonorrhea: symptoms, treatment, how to avoid it and how it interacts with HIV.
Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted bacterial infection that’s relatively easy to transmit. It can affect the throat, rectum (arse), penis (urethra) and eyes and is passed on through sexual contact with someone who has it — during anal sex, vaginal sex, oral sex, and even fingering as it can be passed on to other areas with your hands.
Symptoms can take up to two weeks to show themselves after infection but it’s common for gonorrhea to have no symptoms at all, especially if it’s present in the throat or arse. Other signs can include:
- A creamy or yellowish discharge, especially if it’s from your urethra (penis)
- Itching or burning in the affected area
- Pain in the testicles (balls) or rectum (arse)
Even if you don’t have symptoms, it is possible to pass on gonorrhea from the moment you acquire it. This means if you think you’ve picked it up, book an appointment with a doctor at your sexual health clinic as soon as possible, rather than waiting to know for sure.
Gonorrhea is relatively easy to treat if it’s caught early, but if not it can cause long-term problems in the body such as abscesses and disseminated infection via the blood stream.
Gonorrhea is treated with a course of antibiotics and is relatively easy to clear as long as it is caught early. Your doctor may ask you to return in a couple of weeks for further testing to make sure the treatment has worked.
Because it is so easy to transmit, it’s important not to have sex if you think you have gonorrhea, or in the days following treatment, to avoid passing it onto someone else and possibly even picking it up again.
Letting your sexual partners know they need to get tested and treated is also important for this very reason. If you don’t feel confident doing this yourself, your doctor or sexual health nurse will be able to do it anonymously on your behalf. The Drama Downunder website has an online tool that can also let you tell sex partners they need to get tested without naming you by sending them a text or email.
How to avoid it
STIs are a fact of life, if you are sexually active they aren’t always easy to avoid.
Condoms provide great protection from HIV, but they are not 100% effective in stopping the spread of STIs. This is because the bacteria may be passed from an infection to the condom by your hands. Most people don’t use condoms for oral sex so it’s smart to be regularly checked for this common STI.
The sure way to reduce STIs in our community is for us all to test regularly – at least once every six months. If you have an infection, by treating it early, refraining from sexual contact until it clears and letting your partners know they need to get tested early we can reduce the risk of it being passed on again.
If someone you have slept with let’s you know they have gonorrhea, book an appointment directly with a doctor at a sexual health clinic or GP. They may offer you treatment then and there as a precaution.
PrEP, HIV and Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea shouldn’t affect a person living with HIV and on treatment any differently than anyone else if it’s detected early. Not being on antiretroviral medication for HIV however, may increase the risk of your negative partners contracting HIV because it is possible that Gonorrhea infection could cause a rise in your viral load.
For people living with HIV who are not on treatment, it’s possible for Gonorrhea infection to increase the viral load, increasing the risk of HIV transmission to sexual partners. However, for people who are on effective HIV treatment, STIs appear to have no or very little impact on viral load.
If you are HIV negative, having Gonorrhea can create inflamed skin where the infection is present, increasing the risk of acquiring HIV.
People living with HIV tend to visit their doctor once every six months for an overall health check and an STI test can become a regular part of this screening.