Overview

Gonorrhea is the second most common among bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – chlamydia being the most common. Gonorrhea and chlamydia infections often coexist.

Gonorrhea is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease (STD) seen in men and women and is passed on from one infected person to another through sexual intercourse. This can either be oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse.

It can also be passed from the infected mother to her unborn child through her infected body fluids.

This post describes the its statistics, causes, and risk factors that can make you prone to catching the infection.

Gonorrhea is one of the oldest diseases known to man. Even Hippocrates (Father of modern medicine) in the year 500 BC makes mention of its symptoms.

Gonorrhea is a Greek word meaning “flow of seed” wherein, in the olden times the purulent discharge coming out of the penis was mistaken for semen (seed).

Gonorrhea is also known as “the drip” again from the dripping discharge coming out of the penis and the vagina. Another name for it is “the clap” probably coming from the old French word clapier, which means a brothel from where this disease spreads.

How common is gonorrhea? Statistics and prevalence rate

United States

  • In the United States, about 800,000 people get infected with gonorrhea every year. That is more than one new case per minute.
  • Among these cases, teenage girls account for the highest rates.
  • The gonorrhea complication of pelvic inflammatory disease affects about one million women every year.
  • It was reported at the highest rate with 696764 cases in 2021 since 1997.
  • CDC estimates that, annually, more than 700,000 people in the United States are newly infected with gonorrhea, and less than half of these infections are reported to CDC.

Worldwide

New figures are not available to us. In 1997, 92 million new cases were reported worldwide. There was a rise of 9% in cases from 1997 to 1999.

In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated

  • Eighty-two million new cases of gonorrhea occurred in 2020 worldwide.
  • Most of these cases in 2020 were in the WHO African Region and the Western Pacific Region.
  • Most of those affected were aged 15–49 years.

What causes gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is caused by the gram-negative bacterium, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, commonly referred to as gonococci. The bacteria are spread through sexual acts, which can be oral, vaginal, or anal.

This bacterium easily spreads in the mucus membranes of the reproductive tract in females namely the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and urethra in males and females.

This bacteria can also cause conjunctivitis, pharyngitis, prostatitis, urethritis, proctitis (infection of the anus), and orchitis (testicular infection).

10% of the infected males and 80% of the infected females are asymptomatic (without symptoms). Infected women can carry the infection for weeks or months and are often traced when they infect a partner who gets the symptoms.

These asymptomatic patients are a great threat to society and spread the infection without knowing it. You can be sure of your partner being “clean” only after he or she has been screened for all STDs including testing for gonorrhea.

As mentioned above, infected mothers can also pass the infection to their newborns even if they do not have symptoms.

It is important to know that 40% of those infected by gonorrhea also get infected by chlamydia (another STD).

How does gonorrhea spread?

Gonorrhea can be transmitted through sex by an infected person even during the window period (incubation period) when he or she has no symptoms at all.

It is transmitted through unprotected sexual contact with the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus of an infected partner. There need not be an ejaculation to occur for it to be transmitted or acquired. This disease can also spread from the infected mother to the baby during childbirth.

Communal baths, shared towels or fabric, rectal thermometers, and even unwashed caregivers’ hands can be means of transmission.

However, gonorrhea cannot be transmitted through touching objects like a toilet seat.

The person can become a safe partner only after he or she is completely cured by treatment. You can get gonorrhea any number of times you get infected. There is no immunity after getting infected and cured after the first time.

Risk factors

The following factors increase your risk of getting gonorrhea:

  • Unprotected sex
  • The young age group below the age of 25 years
  • A high STD-risk new partner
  • A high STD-risk lifestyle
  • The habit of having multiple partners
  • Visiting prostitutes
  • Homosexual men
  • Drug users
  • Ethnicity. STD infections like gonorrhea are seen more in African Americans than the general population.
  • Decreased immunity

Please note that pregnancy does not increase your risk.

Who can get gonorrhea?

  • It is seen in people who follow a high STD-risk lifestyle – meaning having unprotected sex and with multiple partners.
  • Gonorrhea is seen more in young people between the ages of 15 to 30 years and more so in urban areas than in rural. This could possibly be due to the easy access to brothels in urban areas.
  • Gonorrhea is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease that can infect men and women. Even the newborn baby can get infected if the mother has the infection at the time of giving birth.
  • The complications that arise if you do not take complete treatment for it are dangerous and can affect the brain and the heart.

Knowing what causes this STD and its risk factors becomes essential so that preventive steps can be taken accordingly.

Risk of catching gonorrhea by single unprotected sexual intercourse

  • A man who has vaginal intercourse with an infected woman has a 20% risk of catching gonorrhea through a single intercourse.
  • In homosexual men, the risk is higher.
  • A woman has a 60% to 80% risk of getting this disease with a single act of vaginal intercourse with an infected man.