What is super gonorrhoea and should I be worried?

Antibiotics to fight chlamydia

We answer the common questions about the STI

Earlier this year two British women were infected with “super-gonorrhoea”. One of them was infected in the UK, which is the first reported case of transmission in the UK. Medical professionals believe this could mean that more people are living with the STI unbeknownst to them. In this article we take a look at this super infection and what you can do to stay clear of it.

What is super gonorrhoea and how is it different to normal gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK with over 35,000 cases reported each year. Also known as ‘the clap’, it’s caused by a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoea, sometimes referred to as gonococcus. The bacteria is usually found in penis discharge or vaginal fluid and it can be spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Super-gonorrhoea refers to a new strain of gonorrhoea that has become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the disease. Doctors are concerned about these outbreaks as alternative treatment methods have to be found and it could be the first of many previously easily treatable diseases that have built up a resistance to antibiotics.

What are the symptoms of super gonorrhoea?

The symptoms of “super gonorrhoea” are the same as normal gonorrhoea with the only difference being the disease’s resistance to common treatment methods. In men, the symptoms of gonorrhoea will usually appear within 10 days of infection and include: –

  • Green, yellow or white discharge from the penis
  • A burning feeling during urination
  • Swelling around the foreskin
  • Testicular pain

Women generally show symptoms far less than men and many show no symptoms at all. Some signs that may show in women include pain during urination, a change in vaginal discharge, heavy periods or bleeding in between periods.

People who have been infected in their throat or rectum are less likely to notice symptoms. Gonorrhoea in the rectum may sometimes cause discharge or discomfort.

The fact that gonorrhoea often shows no symptoms, particularly in women, means that the only effective way of diagnosing the condition is through testing. If you’ve had unprotected sex with someone then you risk being exposed to gonorrhoea along with a number of other STIs so you should be tested.

How can the spread of super gonorrhoea be prevented?

Just like normal gonorrhoea, so called “super gonorrhoea” can be prevented through the responsible use of condoms during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Although condoms don’t completely remove the risk of all sexually transmitted diseases they are effective in preventing the spread of gonorrhoea in almost all cases if the condom is used correctly.

Regular sexual health testing can also be an effective way to avoid spreading the disease. If you’ve had unprotected sex with someone for the first time then you should be tested. This will allow you to identify the disease so that you can receive treatment and avoid passing it on to any future sexual partners.

How is super gonorrhoea treated?

Normal gonorrhoea is treated using a routine course of antibiotics. The most commonly prescribed form of antibiotics for gonorrhoea are a powerful mixture of ceftriaxone and azithromycin. The latest strain of “super-gonorrhoea” is resistant to both of these meaning that treatment of the disease is extremely difficult. One of the women who was infected earlier this year had to be treated with an IV drip such was the resistance to the standard medications.

With cases of super-gonorrhoea now occurring in the UK, it means that retesting following treatment is essential to ensure you’re cured. Following your course of antibiotics it’s recommended that you take another test two weeks after you’ve finished your course of treatment to be certain that the disease has being treated.

What happens if gonorrhoea goes untreated?

Gonorrhoea can cause a range of long term health complications if left untreated in both men and women.

In women, gonorrhoea can cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) with symptoms ranging from minor abdominal pain to more serious internal abscesses. In some cases PID can affect the fallopian tubes enough to cause infertility or increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy.

In men, gonorrhoea can cause epididymitis, which in rare cases may lead to male infertility.

What tests are available to diagnose gonorrhoea and super-gonorrhoea?

“Super-gonorrhoea” can be diagnosed using the same testing methods as normal gonorrhoea. There are a range of testing methods which can diagnose the condition, including methods that use a swab and those which use a urine sample.

Unless you’ve been notified that you may have gonorrhoea by a former sexual partner, or you’re exhibiting symptoms which a doctor believes may indicate gonorrhoea, testing should always be completed for a wider range of conditions as opposed to gonorrhoea in isolation. If you’ve had unprotected sex, in theory you may have been exposed to any sexually transmitted infection.

Here at Your Sexual Health we offer gonorrhoea testing as an Instant Test, which can diagnose you in under 30 minutes. We also offer a number of standard urine and swab tests which offer accurate laboratory results against gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

If you’ve had oral or anal sex then you will need to complete a swab test of the affected area to accurately diagnose the condition.

Should we stop using antibiotics?

Gonorrhoea is the latest disease to show a resistance to antibiotics that were previously effective against the condition. One of the reasons for gonorrhoea developing into a super infection is due to our over reliance on antibiotics. Health professionals have warned that our antibiotic use should be cut down to prevent future bacterial resistance to them.

It’s thought that more than 2,000 deaths per year are caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria and some doctors have warned that without a reduction of antibiotic use then many routine medical procedures may become too risky to carry out.

With this in mind it’s important that you only take antibiotics when they are prescribed by a doctor. In cases of sexually transmitted infections you should only take antibiotics after you’ve been tested and it’s confirmed that you are infected.