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gonococcal infections

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Gonorrhea in females

Gonorrhea in males

Alternative Names

Gonococcal (gon-oh-kok-al) infections are caused by the bacteria Neisseria (nye-sear-ee-ah) gonorrhoeae (gon-oh-ree). The infection is acquired through sexual contact or is passed from mother to baby during childbirth.

What is going on in the body?
Humans are the only host for Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The disease is spread through sexual contact or from mother to baby during childbirth. Sexual abuse needs to be suspected when the infection is found in a young child. Women with the infection may have no symptoms. When they do, the usual ones are vaginal discharge and pelvic inflammatory disease (infection of the uterus, ovaries, or the tubes between the uterus and the ovaries). Men with the infection usually have a discharge from the penis. Other possible sites of infection are the throat and rectum. Sometimes the organism can spread through the bloodstream to other areas of the body. This is called disseminated gonorrhoea. The symptoms seen with disseminated gonorrhoea include rash and painful, swollen joints. Rarely, endocarditis (en-doe-car-die-tis) (inflammation of the heart) and Meningitis (men-in-jie-tis) (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord) can occur. When a baby is infected during birth, the most common site of infection is the eye. If left untreated, there can be long-term damage to the eye. Sometimes babies can develop abscesses in the scalp at the site of the foetal monitor. Babies can also have disseminated gonorrhoea, which is similar to that seen in adults.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?
  • unprotected sexual contact
  • childbirth in an infected, untreated mother
What can be done to prevent the disease?
People who have the infection and their sexual partners should be treated as soon as possible. Pregnant women should be tested for gonorrhoea and treated if they have the infection. All infants should receive preventive antibiotic eye drops or ointment, such as erythromycin or gentamicin in their eyes after birth, even if the mother tested negative.

How is the disease diagnosed?
The organism can be cultured from specimens from the genital tract, joint fluid, or cerebrospinal fluid. Sometimes the organism can be seen in these specimens with the aid of a microscope.

What are the long-term effects of the disease?
Infections in newborns, if untreated, can result in vision problems. meningitis can cause neurologic problems.

What are the risks to others?
Anyone who has gonorrhoea can spread it to others.

What are the treatments for the disease?
Ceftriaxone or a similar cephalosporin antibiotic can be used. The specific drug will depend upon the sensitivity of the gonorrhoea to different antibiotics.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
The most common side effects are rash and minor changes in the liver and gall bladder.

What happens after treatment for the disease?
It is important to test people who have gonorrhoea for other sexually transmitted diseases. These include chlamydia (klah-mid-ee-ah), syphilis (sif-ah-lis), hepatitis B, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Their sexual partners should also be seen by their doctors and tested for these diseases.

Author: Danielle Zerr, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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