Rates of gonorrhoea in England increased by 26% between 2017-2018, from 44,812 to 56,259, according to new data from Public Health England. And the largest proportional increase in gonorrhoea was seen in people aged over 65.
There were around 448,000 cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) diagnosed in 2018, a rise of 5% from the previous year. Gonorrhoea remains the second most common bacterial STI in the UK after chlamydia – and PHE says this trend is particularly concerning given the emergence of the extensively-drug resistant ‘super gonorrhoea’.
The rise in the number of gonorrhoea cases could be partly attributed to an increase in testing, suggested PHE, but also people not using condoms correctly or consistently with new and casual partners.
What Is Gonorrhoea?
Gonorrhoea is caused by a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus.
The bacteria reside mainly in discharge from the penis and in vaginal fluid. The bacteria can infect the cervix (entrance to the womb), the urethra (that passes urine out of the body), the rectum, or sometimes the throat and eyes.
The infection can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby.
If left untreated, it can lead to more serious long-term health problems such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or infertility in women.
How Do You Catch Gonorrhoea?
Gonorrhoea is passed between sexual partners during unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex. The NHS says sharing vibrators or other sex toys (that have not been washed or covered with a new condom) can also spread gonorrhoea.
The STI cannot be spread by kissing, hugging, sharing towels, cups, plates or cutlery, using the same toilet seat or sharing a bath or swimming pool.
What Are The Symptoms Of Gonorrhoea?
The NHS says typical symptoms include a thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis, pain when urinating and, in women, bleeding between periods or heavier periods than usual.
But around 10% of men and 50% of women who have gonorrhoea do not experience any symptoms at all.
Dr Nicholas Antonakopoulos from Zava UK, a company selling STI home-testing kits, said: “Symptoms are more common in men. They tend to appear about a week after transmission of the disease.”
How Do You Test For Gonorrhoea?
If you have any of the symptoms of gonorrhoea or suspect you might have contracted the STI, you should visit your local sexual health clinic (find your nearest clinic here) for a test.
Gonorrhoea can be easily diagnosed by testing a sample of discharge picked up using a swab. In men, testing a sample of urine can also diagnose the condition.
How Is Gonorrhoea Treated?
Once diagnosed, gonorrhoea is usually treated with a single antibiotic injection and a single antibiotic tablet. If the treatment works, most of your symptoms should improve within a few days.
You will usually be required to attend a follow-up appointment a week or so later. Another test will be carried out to ensure the STI has been cleared. You should avoid having sex until after this time.
If you have any worries or concerns, contact the FPA sexual health helpline on 0345 122 8687.