Systemic Gonococcal Infection: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, Complications

What is Systemic Gonococcal Infection?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

More than one parts of the body are affected due in Systemic Gonococcal Infection, which includes:

  • Urethra
  • Throat
  • Rectum
  • Cervix

Newborns can also contract Systemic Gonococcal Infection from the mother if she has an untreated infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 63 percent of increase has been observed in gonorrhea since 2014.(1)

Gonorrhea can be treated effectively, but in many cases, the infection goes undetected. Over time the bacteria causing gonorrhea can spread to the bloodstream and the other parts of the body. This is a serious medical condition also known as systemic gonococcal infection or disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI).

Causes of Systemic Gonococcal infection

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection and can spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact, if not protected with any of the barrier methods.

Systemic gonococcal infection can develop within 2 weeks if contracting gonorrhea.(2)

Once the bacteria enter the bloodstream they can affect various tissues and cause permanent damage.

Gonorrhea is a very common sexually transmitted infection. Some people are more at risk of suffering from it. These include:

  • People below 25 years of age
  • Those who have unprotected sex
  • Those with multiple sex partners

Symptoms of Systemic Gonococcal Infection

Most people are symptomless in the early stage of gonorrhea, while a few may experience the following symptoms:

  • Increase in vaginal discharge
  • Thick discharge from the penis
  • Painful bowel movement
  • Sore throat
  • Anal discharge
  • Swollen or painful testicles
  • Painful urination
  • Spotting between menstrual period
  • Anal itching

If the gonorrhea is left untreated, the bacteria spread, causing more symptoms depending on the area of the body affected.

Commonly occurring symptoms of systemic gonococcal infection include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Swelling in the joints
  • Pain in joints
  • Feeling ill or unwell
  • Skin rash with pink and red spots
  • Pain in tendons and wrists
  • Pain in the wrist or heel

Diagnosis of Systemic Gonococcal Infection

The first thing a doctor does before going ahead with the diagnosis of systemic gonococcal infection is to observe the symptoms.

To test gonorrhea, a sample is taken by the doctor from the affected area. It is then sent to the lab for analysis to check for the presence of bacteria.

The result can be obtained within 24 hours.

The culture for testing can be obtained from:

  • Blood
  • Skin lesion
  • Cervix
  • Throat
  • Fluids from joints
  • Anus
  • Urethra

If a person is tested positive for gonorrhea, the doctor looks for other STIs.

Complications of Systemic Gonococcal Infection

If detected with gonorrhea, never delay or ignore the treatment as untreated gonorrhea can spread into the bloodstream and cause serious complications.

Once the gonococcal bacterium has entered the bloodstream there can be other complications that include:

  • Gonococcal arthritis that can cause rashes and inflammation of the joints
  • Gonococcal endocarditis that can damage the inner lining of the heart muscle
  • Gonococcal meningitis that involves infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord

Other complication of systemic gonococcal infection includes infertility that occurs when the infection spreads to fallopian tubes and uterus in females. It can lead to epididymitis in males, which is inflammation and swelling of the epididymis, a tube behind the testicles.

Untreated gonorrhea can pass on from the mother to the baby during childbirth. This can cause blindness and scalp sores in the babies.

Treatment of systemic gonococcal infection can help reduce complications.

Treatment of Systemic Gonococcal Infection

  • Antibiotics are given to the patients to treat gonorrhea and systemic gonococcal infection.
  • Earlier penicillin was the primary treatment for gonorrhea. But, the antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea have made penicillin ineffective in its treatment.
  • Uncomplicated gonorrhea can be treated with 2 doses of antibiotics, one orally and one by injection.
  • For systemic gonococcal infection, the antibiotics are given intravenously initially. The treatment lasts for 7 days.
  • For allergies and intolerance to first-line antibiotics for gonorrhea or systemic gonococcal infection, alternative options are prescribed.
  • During the treatment, it is important to inform the partner about the infection as they would also need to be tested and treated if they have an infection.

You can completely recover from gonorrhea or systemic gonococcal infection if the treatment is started early. An untreated systemic gonococcal infection can affect different areas of the body and cause permanent damage.

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