Gonorrhea: Prevention

Scientists haven't yet developed a vaccine or other way to prevent gonorrhea. You can avoid the disease by abstaining from sex or engaging in it with a monogamous, uninfected partner.

You can reduce, but not eliminate, your risk of getting gonorrhea by practicing safe sex. Make sure you:

  • Always use protection during sex. Using a latex male condom during vaginal sex greatly diminishes your risk of contracting a variety of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including gonorrhea. Polyurethane female condoms also offer some protection but are not as effective as latex male condoms. During anal sex, a latex male condom offers the best protection, and for oral sex, a condom or dental dam (a piece of latex that is placed over the vagina or anal opening) should be used.

    While gonorrhea is curable, several other STDs are not. You should not have unprotected sex of any type with someone unless you are both sure you do not have any STDs.

  • Limit your number of sexual partners and avoid high-risk partners. Other than abstinence, a long-term mutually-monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is the best way of avoiding gonorrhea and other STDs. If you are not in a monogamous relationship, reducing your number of sexual partners and steering clear of high-risk partners can lower your likelihood of contracting STDs.
  • Know the sexual history of your partners. Talk to each potential partner about both of your sexual histories before beginning a sexual relationship. These discussions are important regardless of gender. Women who have sex with women and men who have sex with men are also at risk for STDs.

Other things you can do to help prevent gonorrhea and other STDs:

  • Avoid douching. Douching removes the protective bacteria normally found in the vagina. As a result, you are more likely to become infected if you are exposed to an STD.
  • Wash your vagina with soap and water after sexual activity. This may help to eliminate parasites and bacteria that have entered the vagina.
  • Urinate after sexual activity. This may help to flush out bacteria that have entered the urethra.
  • Perform regular genital self-examinations. to become familiar with the normal appearance of your genitals. This will help you to identify any symptoms that may develop if you are exposed to an STD.
  • Get regular gynecological examinations, including testing for STDs. While this won't stop you from contracting gonorrhea, early detection and treatment can prevent more serious complications from developing. Screening tests can be conducted during routine medical checkups. They are particularly important at the beginning of a new sexual relationship.
  • Be aware of signs or symptoms in your partner(s). People may be dishonest about their sexual history or STD status. Therefore, you should be aware of any signs and symptoms in your partner (although gonorrhea does not always produce symptoms). You should never engage in sexual activity with a partner who is showing symptoms of any STD. You should also abstain from sex with a partner who is currently being treated for gonorrhea. The disease may be transmitted at any time until the course of treatment is complete.

Pregnant women should be tested for gonorrhea and treated if necessary. Babies born in hospitals are treated with special eyedrops to prevent a gonorrhea infection in the eyes.

Gonorrhea: Treatment Options

Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, given in the form of a pill or an injection. Some bacteria, though, have grown resistant to certain antibiotics. Lab tests may indicate if the strain is resistant. Because of the increase in resistant strains, some doctors treat all gonorrhea cases as if they were drug-resistant types and use antibiotics that bacteria do not resist.

Most antibiotics can be administered in one dose or in a week's worth of pills. It's important to refrain from sexual activity for seven days to give the medication time to work. You must take all of the medication as prescribed even if you don't have any symptoms or don't feel bad; if you don't take the full course of treatment, you may not eliminate all of the gonorrhea bacteria. Schedule an appointment with your doctor one week after finishing treatment to rerun lab tests and confirm that the gonorrhea is gone.

Even if you successfully treat gonorrhea, you can always get it again. Practice safe sex and take other preventive steps to lower your risk of contracting gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted disease (STDs).

People with gonorrhea often have chlamydia as well. Chlamydia is another STD with few symptoms. When gonorrhea is diagnosed, some doctors prescribe a combination of antibiotics to treat chlamydia as well because the antibiotics used to treat chlamydia are cheaper than the test used to diagnose it.

Gonorrhea treatment and pregnancy

Treatment of pregnant women with gonorrhea involves special considerations. They cannot take certain antibiotics that may affect the developing baby. For example, tetracycline antibiotics may discolor the developing baby's teeth. Gonorrhea also makes women more likely to have a miscarriage or a premature birth. In addition to treatment with antibiotics, pregnant women may be treated with other drugs to avoid preterm labor.

A woman with gonorrhea may transmit the disease to her child while giving birth. The baby may first be infected in the eyes, which can result in blindness. If the infection is not treated, it can spread and cause joint infection or a life-threatening blood infection. Antibiotic eyedrops may be given to newborn babies of pregnant women with gonorrhea to prevent infection.

Ongoing research regarding gonorrhea

Scientists continue to study gonorrhea to gain information about treatment and prevention of the disease. Some of the most current research is focused on the following areas:

  • Antibiotic resistance. Researchers are trying to determine how the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium causes disease and becomes resistant to antibiotics.
  • Process of infection. Some studies are aiming to discover how the bacteria infect the body's cells while evading the immune system. This research may lead to the development of an effective vaccine.
Last updated 24 March 2012

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