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What is it?

Gonorrhea is a common bacterial infection. It is sometimes called “the clap,” and can infect the throat, genitals, and rectum. It is extremely common, especially among high school and college students. There are believed to be 800,000 new cases in the U.S. each year. While it is highly curable and nothing to be too alarmed about, serious health complications can arise when the infection is left untreated for long periods of time. Some people who contract gonorrhea never have symptoms, or never notice them, and this is why the infection spreads so easily and can be so dangerous, despite being very curable.

How did I get it?

Gonorrhea is usually transmitted through anal, vaginal or oral sex, or by sharing improperly sterilized sex toys. It can also be passed along to newborn if the mother has it at the time of birth. Condoms, dental dams, and other methods of barrier protection can all prevent gonorrhea.

What are the symptoms?

For those with testicles, symptoms include burning feelings when urinating, discharge from the penis, and/or painful, swollen testicles. For those with a cervix, there are usually mild or no symptoms, but some may notice pain during urination, increased vaginal discharge, and/or spotting (bleeding between normal periods). For rectal infections, symptoms include anal itching, painful bowel movements, discharge, and general soreness. If the infection is in the throat, there might be some soreness or swelling of the lymph nodes. If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause scarring of the fallopian tubes, as well as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (which can lead to infertility, severe pain, and ectopic pregnancies). Gonorrhea can also reduce fertility for those with testicles and cause long-lasting testicular pain.

What do I do when the test comes back positive?

Your healthcare provider will prescribe a round of antibiotics, like ceftriaxone, azithromycin, or doxycycline. It’s important to finish all the medication you have to ensure the infection fully exits your system. Make sure any recent partners are tested and treated to so the infection isn’t passed back and forth (which it can be). Wait 7 days after you finish all your medicine to partake in any sexual activity. Gonorrhea is a reportable disease (meaning the US Department of Health collects data on how many cases occur), so your healthcare provider will likely inform you of reporting practices and guide you on steps to contacting to past partners (see “Talking to Partners”). The healthcare provider, not the patient, is responsible for reporting individual cases to the correct organization, which might include both the DOH and the CDC. (

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