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Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause sterility, is on the rise and growing dangerously resistant to antibiotics.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection (commonly known as "the clap") that is transmitted through oral, genital or anal sex with an infected person. It can also be spread from mother to child during birth.
After 20 years of constant decline in Canada, the rates of infection for gonorrhea have risen more than 40 percent over the past five years. The recent rise in gonorrhea infection is attributed to people not consistently using safer sex methods. In addition, drug-resistant strains of the disease are being found across the country. The proportion of samples resistant to ciprofloxacin, one of the leading antibiotics for gonorrhea, has risen more than two hundredfold in the last decade.
The symptoms of gonorrhea infection are different in women and men. When first infected, some men will have no symptoms at all. For men who do experience symptoms, these may include:
Symptoms usually appear two to five days after infection, but it can take up to 30 days for symptoms to appear.
For women, the early symptoms of gonorrhea are often mild and many infected women have no symptoms at all. In other cases, women may mistake the symptoms for a bladder or vaginal infection. For women who do experience symptoms of infection, these can include:
Women with mild or no symptoms are still at risk of serious complications from the infection.
Symptoms of rectal infection include:
Infections in the throat cause few symptoms.
Even without symptoms, gonorrhea can be transmitted to others; anyone at risk should therefore be tested.
In women, untreated gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID effects include abdominal pain, fever, internal abcesses, long-lasting pelvic pain and scarring of the fallopian tubes, causing infertility and increasing the chance of ectopic or tubal pregnancies.
Men can develop scarring of the urethra, making urination difficult and potentially leaving them infertile from genital tract scarring. Both sexes are at risk of the infection spreading through the bloodstream into the joints, causing inflammation and swelling - a type of arthritis called Reiter's Syndrome.
If a pregnant woman has gonorrhea, the infection can be passed to the baby in the birth canal during delivery, causing blindness, joint infection or a life-threatening blood infection. Infection with gonorrhea also increases the risk of transmitting and acquiring HIV.
Testing for gonorrhea infection can be done with a urine test or swab for culture. Gonorrhea can be treated with a single dose antibiotic. Again, resistance of gonorrhea to antibiotic treatment is increasing.
Following these suggestions may help you to protect yourself from contracting gonorrhea:
Health Canada's Sexual Health and Sexually Transmitted Infections Section provides national leadership and coordination through programs that develop and support surveillance and targeted research studies. Working with provincial and territorial governments, non-governmental organizations and health care providers, the Section develops evidence-based national standards and policies, promotes the exchange of information and engages in prevention and promotion activities.
For more information on gonorrhea see the following publications:
What you need to know about STI:
For tips on safer sex practices go to Health Canada's Condoms, Sexually transmitted infections, Safer Sex and You Web site.
For information on STIs directed at youth go to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada's sexuality and you Teen Web site at: Sexuality and U.
For more information on common STIs and tips on prevention go to the
College of Family Physicians of Canada's Web site.
For additional articles on this subject and other issues go to the It's Your Health Web site. You can also call (613) 957-2991.
©Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada,
represented by the Minister of Health, 2004
Original: July 2004