Gonorrhoea is a sexually acquired infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in Wales and the UK.
It can also be passed from mother to baby during birth.
The early signs of gonorrhoea are often mild and many young women and some young men show no symptoms and so can be unaware of their infection. The symptoms of genital discharge and burning when urinating more frequently occur in men than women. More information about gonorrhoea is available from NHS Direct Wales On-line.
Who gets it and how serious is it?
People most at risk of getting gonorrhoea are those having unprotected sex (i.e. not using a condom), those with more than one sexual partner and those who change partners frequently. It is caught through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex or genital contact with an infected partner. An infected person may have no symptoms but can still transmit the infection without knowing.
The highest rates of gonorrhoea are seen in women aged 16-19 and in men aged 20-24 years.
Gonorrhoea can have especially serious effects for young women if left untreated. It can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can lead to infertility and an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy. Rarely, untreated gonorrhoea can spread to the blood stream or the joints. This occurs in both men and women.
Gonorrhoea is treated with a single dose of specific antibiotics. Recently, it has become apparent that some strains of gonorrhoea are becoming resistant to the commonly used antibiotics used to treat it (antimicrobial resistance). In such cases, other types of antibiotic maybe prescribed.
How common is it?
Rates of gonorrhoea in Wales have shown a general increase over the past decade compared to the low rates seen during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In 2009, there were 485 episodes of uncomplicated gonorrhoea and 195 epidemiological treatments of suspected gonorrhoea reported from GUM clinics in Wales (23 new cases per 100,000 population).
Sexually active people can reduce their risk of contracting gonorrhoea by reducing their numbers of sexual partners and by using condoms correctly and consistently during sex.
Individuals can request confidential screening for gonorrhoea and other sexually transmitted infections, either from their GP or from a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, lists of which are available from the FPA website. GUM clinics are completely confidential and will not inform GPs of results unless requested to do so by the patient. Clinics can be attended at any age.
Minimising impact in Wales
Public Health Wales has established the Sexual Health Programme which collects and collates data on the levels of sexually transmitted infections, including gonorrhoea, in the Welsh population. These data allows significant trends and any particular groups of the population affected to be identified, and enables effective delivery of high quality, accessible and appropriate specialist public health services, both in partnership and support of other national and local bodies. In addition, a programme to determine the levels and types of antimicrobial-resistant strains of gonorrhoea in Wales has also been established.