Women's Health

‘Super-gonorrhoea’ outbreak: Everything you need to know

Gonorrhoea. The very word puts a shiver down most spines. But what actually is it and do you need to be worried about it?

Otherwise known as “The Clap,” (thought to come from the French word “clapier” which means brothel or because an old-school treatment was to “clap” a gonorrhoea infected penis with a heavy object in order to cure the infection *scream*) gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that can be passed on through unprotected oral, vaginal and anal sex.

gonorrhea_3444225bNeisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterium responsible for the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea.  Photo: The Science Picture Company / Alamy

It’s a clever little bug that doesn’t always show symptoms and I see patients daily who carry the infection without even realising. And numbers are on the up. A report by Public Health England has shown cases of gonorrhoea to have risen by 19 per cent in 2014 amongst heterosexuals and a whopping 32 per cent in gay men.

A new strain

Gonorrhoea requires two antibiotics given together to effectively treat, which must be accessed at a sexual health clinic or GP. One is given by an injection (ceftriaxone) and another in the form of tablets (azithromycin). But a new strain of the bug which is resistant to the azithromycin component of this treatment has been identified in 16 patients in the North of England, raising a national alert.

  • ‘Super-gonorrhoea’ outbreak across north of England sparks national alert

Whilst 16 people doesn’t sound like a lot, there’s no doubt that more people carrying the strain are yet to be identified. And with plenty of people having unprotected sex, it’s a no brainer that the bug will be passed on to more. The prospect of no effective treatment for an infection that affects over 30,000 people a year is terrifying for professionals and patients alike. Untreated gonorrhoea can lead to a whole host of problems if left to its own devices, such as chronic pain and infertility.

The cases identified up North are being treated with an alternative medication but the onus now is on the public to take their sexual health seriously.

So how can you do your bit?

Firstly be aware of the symptoms of gonorrhoea. For the ladies this includes a change in your regular discharge, any unusual bleeding down below, pain during sex or when having a pee. For the gents: discharge from the penis or bottom, pain when peeing and pain in the testicles. If you’re showing any of these symptoms, don’t delay: head to your sexual health clinic and get it checked out.

If you don’t have symptoms, remember gonorrhoea may still be lurking and testing is super straight-forward: just a urine sample for the boys (and a swab from the throat or bottom if you’re gay) and a self-taken vaginal swab for the girls. Getting a sexual health check is free and straight forward: have a look at NHS Choices, Family Planning Association or sxt.org to find a clinic near you and remember your GP may also offer tests.

If you’re found to have gonorrhoea, further tests will be taken to look at the infection more closely and to ensure we’re giving you the right treatment. We’ll then repeat a test in 2-weeks’ time to check that it’s all cleared up. We can also give you advice on telling your recent sexual partners, as they will need to be tested and treated too.

As for protecting yourself for the future, I can’t stress enough the importance of wearing condoms with new partners (you can get a wide selection for free from your local clinic or GP, including latex-free options for sensitive bits) and having regular sexual health checks if a new set of genitals comes into the mix. You’ll be doing your bit to safeguard the health of yourself and the public, which is really something to be proud of.

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