Gonorrhoea - Causes, Symptoms, Testing & Treatment

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What is gonorrhoea?

Sometimes known as ‘The Clap’, gonorrhoea is a common sexually transmitted infection that affects the genitals, rectum, eyes and throat. Yes, you heard that right, even the throat!
It is thought among sexual health professionals that the prevalence of this infection is due to the common misconception of performing a urine test only during routine STI checks, particularly amongst heterosexuals.
So next time you’re in for your standard STI screen - insist on a throat swab.

Gonorrhoea causes

It is caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoea which prefers to live in moist mucosal tissue on the body. This makes places like the rectum, vagina, and urethra seem like a five-star hotel for this gram-negative diplococci.

Gonorrhoea is spread by having unprotected anal, vaginal and oral sex, and well as sharing unwashed or unprotected sex toys. It’s important to wrap toys in a new condom with each use to stop the possible spread of infections, and hey, it’s not like they’re going to complain of dulled sensation!

For pregnant women, gonorrhoea is one of the routine antenatal tests offered early in pregnancy, as if untreated, it can be passed on during vaginal birth and cause permanent blindness for the newborn.

Gonorrhoea symptoms

Be on the lookout for the symptoms below, and even if you think there may be another cause, give yourself the peace of mind by getting a test just in case.

• Discharge from the penis that can be yellow, white or green
• Burning sensation when urinating

• Pain or burning when urinating
• Abnormal or increased vaginal discharge
• Vaginal bleeding between periods

• Itching and/or discharge from the anus
• Anal bleeding and soreness
• Pain when passing stools
• Swollen and painful testicles

• Sore and/or red throat
• Swollen lymph nodes
• Fever

The importance of testing even if you have no symptoms is paramount. Most of the time gonorrhoea shows no symptoms, and in women, even if there are symptoms, they can easily be mistaken for a urinary tract or bladder infection. If left untreated, the infection can lead to serious and long-term complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can cause infertility.

Gonorrhoea testing

As part of routine STI checks, gonorrhoea testing is offered as a urine test, however, this only detects urethral or vaginal gonorrhoea. Comprehensive testing involves taking swabs from the rectum and throat too, so if you dabble in anal and oral sex, make sure you insist on swabs!

If you are sexually active, we recommend completing a full comprehensive STI screen at least every 3 months.

If you are waiting for test results to come back, it is safest to abstain from having sex, and if the test comes back positive, wait at least a week after ending treatment to resume sexual activity.

Gonorrhoea treatment

There’s no shame in getting gonorrhoea, it’s a bacterial infection just like a UTI or ear infection and treatment is very much the same. What matters is staying on top of it, and managing it early to help stop the spread through our community.
Like other bacterial infections, it is treated by using antibiotics which are administered once-off, either orally or by injection.

If you’ve previously had gonorrhoea and been treated this does not mean you are protected against future infections, so all the more reason to test frequently and practice safe sex with a barrier method such as condoms.

In Australia, there have been several cases over the past three years of multi-drug resistant gonorrhoea, meaning the first line of antibiotic treatment has not worked. This isn’t to say that there is some super-gonorrhoea out there taking over the world that can’t be cured, it just means that a different kind of older antibiotics needs to be used, and this may require longer treatment times and may have more side effects.

By keeping up thorough and regular testing, we can help to stop multi-drug resistant gonorrhoea getting established here in Australia, making the modern antibiotics currently used to treat it, still be our first and most-trusted line of defence.

We recommend testing for gonorrhoea and other STIs as often as every three months if you are sexually active with multiple partners. Visit your GP or M Clinic for a complete and judgement-free sexual health screen.

If you have questions about gonorrhoea or other STIs, reach out to us here. 


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Our Mission

To minimise the impact and further transmission of HIV, other blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections. To reduce social, legal and policy barriers which prevent access to health information and effective support and prevention services.

WA AIDS Council would like to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of this country throughout Australia, and their strength, resilience and connection to land and community. In particular, the WA AIDS Council would like to acknowledge the Wadjuk people of the Noongar Nation as the traditional custodians of the land in which our office is located.


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