How Long Does Gonorrhea Last & What are Its Long Term Effects?
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by bacterium Neisseria gonorrheae. It is a highly infectious disease and spreads during vaginal, anal and oral sex with an infected person. It also gets transmitted from infected pregnant mother to her unborn baby.
How Long Does Gonorrhea Last?
Globally, Gonorrhea affects both the sexes in age ranging from 15 to 30 years. It shows albeit a high incidence in women than in males. The characteristic feature of gonorrhea is that although infection is present, the symptoms are not very obvious. The incubation period of gonorrhea till the symptoms develop are 2-14 days and symptoms appear between 4-6 days. Sometimes symptoms develop after a month. This leads to late diagnosis with serious complications of Gonorrhea. Therefore, young adults especially women are advised to undergo screening to check for the presence of this bacterium.
Gonorrhea may last for a few weeks to months. When it lasts for a long time, there is a risk for complications in both infected men as well as women.
What are the Long Term Effects of Gonorrhea?
The long term effects of gonorrhea can be different in men and women and are as follows:
Long Term Effects of Gonorrhea Infection in Women:
When gonorrhea infection occurs in woman, it causes abnormal vaginal discharge, frequent urination, burning sensation during urination, pain in lower abdomen, pain during sexual intercourse and bleeding between periods. When left untreated or poorly treated it has further long term implications on the health. These are –
Inflammation of the Pelvic Region:
The gonorrhea infection spreads to the upper reproductive system and causes Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). The uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries get affected. Since there is blocking and scarring of fallopian tubes, the eggs cannot travel from ovaries to uterus and impairs the process of fertilization. This leads to infertility where woman faces problems in getting pregnant. Another problem is ectopic pregnancy, where the fetus grows in fallopian tubes instead of uterus and often leads to spontaneous abortions.
Complication During Pregnancy and in Newborn as an Effect of Gonorrhea:
The untreated infected mother passes gonorrhea infection to her infant. This causes gonococcal ophthalmia neonatorum in 28% of the newborn babies. Neonatal conjunctivitis can result in blindness. It may also result in preterm labor and miscarriage.
Other complications include fever, inflammation of the tissue surrounding reproductive organs and septic arthritis.
Long Term Effects of Gonorrhea Infection in Men:
Gonorrhea infection in men exhibits as abnormal discharge from penis, burning sensation during urination and inflammation of urethra. Rarely, there is Epididymitis due to which the testicles get swollen and there is problem with sperm development. If left untreated, it leads to infertility. Some men even suffer from reactive arthritis, inflammation of the prostate gland and prostate cancer.
Other Complications of gonorrhea, if it remains in the body include:
- Rectal infection seen as pain, discomfort or discharge.
- Infection of the eyes (conjunctivitis) causes discomfort due to swelling, redness and discharge.
- Gonorrheal infection when it travels through the blood to other parts of the body results in skin lesions, joint pain (arthritis), meningitis (inflammation of the spinal cord) and infection of the heart (endocarditis).
- Oral sex can lead to sore throat without other symptoms.
- High risk of contracting HIV, syphilis and chlamydia infections.
Risk Factors of Gonorrhea
The risk factors of getting infected with gonorrhea include:
- Unprotected sex with partner suffering from untreated gonorrhea infection.
- Not maintaining hygiene when dealing with infected patients. Infection spreads from infected hands to eyes.
- An untreated pregnant female passes gonorrhea infection to the child in her womb.
Treatment for Gonorrhea
Injectible ceftriaxone antibiotic is given along with azithromycin or doxycycline antibiotics. The antibiotic and its dose have to be careful decided due to emergence of antibiotic strains.
Prevention of Gonorrhea Infection
The ways to prevent gonorrhea infection include:
- Maintaining good hygiene
- Avoid having unprotected sexual practices. Usage of male or female condom is essential.
- Avoid sexual relation with multiple partners and with partners suffering from STDs.
- Past infections with gonorrhea do not confer immunity. Therefore, annual screening of gonorrhea by people engaged in unprotected sex is mandatory.
- Pregnant women should get tested early to start with immediate treatment so that the baby does not get gonorrhea infection.
- Avoid having sex with infected partner who has not completed the entire course of the treatment.
- The infected person on medications should do a retest after two weeks to confirm if the treatment is working and that there is no bacteria remaining in the body.
- The person treated for gonorrhea infection has high chance of getting it again, hence annual screening, to complete entire course of treatment and to follow above instructions is important.
The untreated or poorly treated gonorrhea infection has severe health consequences. In order to avoid the long term effects, it is necessary that both men and women (with multiple partners) and pregnant women should undergo screening to check presence of gonorrhea. Early detection of gonorrhea will allow starting of early treatment to avoid complications in future.