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What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI), also known as “the clap” or “the drip.”

Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrheae and is spread through contact with the mouth, vagina, penis, or anus of an infected person.  The bacteria that cause gonorrhea live in warm, moist areas of the body, including the tube that carries urine out of the body (urethra). The bacteria can even survive in the throat and eyelids.  In women, the bacteria can grow in the reproductive tract (fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix) and, if left untreated, can cause permanent reproductive damage, such as infertility.

How is it passed from person to person?

  • Gonorrhea is passed through vaginal sex, oral sex, or anal sex.  Ejaculation does not have to occur for gonorrhea to be transmitted from one person to another.
  • It is possible to pass gonorrhea even if the penis or tongue does not go all the way into the vagina or anus.  As long as the vagina, cervix, anus, penis or mouth come in contact with infected secretions or fluids (including semen), transmission is possible.
  • Even if a person with gonorrhea is treated and cured, he or she can be re-infected if exposed again.
  • Gonorrhea can also be passed from mother to newborn as the baby passes through the infected birth canal. This can result in eye infections, pneumonia, or other complications for the baby.

What are the signs and symptoms of gonorrhea for guys?

  • Some men might notice signs and symptoms of gonorrhea appearing one to fourteen days after it was passed to them through sexual contact.  Some men, however, might not notice any signs and symptoms, even if they are infected.
  • For guys, symptoms of gonorrhea include:  burning and/or pain while urinating, increased frequency or urgency of urination, discharge from the penis (white, yellow, or green in color), red or swollen opening of the penis (urethra), tender or swollen testicles, and sore throat.
  • Symptoms of rectal infection may include discharge, anal itching, soreness, bleeding, or painful bowel movements.  Rectal infection also may cause no symptoms.

What are the signs and symptoms of gonorrhea for girls and women?

  • Most females infected with gonorrhea have no signs or symptoms. Otherwise, signs and symptoms of gonorrhea in girls and women are usually mild and are often mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection.
  • Signs and symptoms in females most often include a painful or burning sensation when urinating, increased vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding between periods, or sore throat.
  • Even if there are no or mild symptoms, women with gonorrhea are at risk of developing serious complications from the infection, including permanent reproductive damage and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
  • Symptoms of rectal infection may include discharge, anal itching, soreness, bleeding, or painful bowel movements.  Rectal infection also may cause no symptoms.

What are the complications of gonorrhea?

  • If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious health problems in both men and women.
  • In females, gonorrhea is a common cause of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The symptoms may be very severe and can include abdominal pain, pain during intercourse, and fever.  PID can lead to internal abscesses (pus-filled “pockets” that are hard to cure) and long-lasting, chronic pelvic pain.  PID can damage the fallopian tubes enough to cause infertility or increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy, which is a life-threatening condition in which a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube.
  • Gonorrhea is a leading cause of infertility in women.
  • Untreated gonorrhea in males can cause epididymitis, a painful condition of the ducts attached to the testicles that may lead to infertility if left untreated.
  • People with gonorrhea are more likely to contract HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
  • If a pregnant woman has gonorrhea, she may give the infection to her baby as the baby passes through the birth canal during delivery. This can cause blindness, joint infection, or a life-threatening blood infection in the baby.

Am I at risk for contracting gonorrhea?

You are more likely to get this STI if you:

  • Have multiple sex partners
  • Have a partner with a past history of any STIs
  • Have sex a partner and do not know his or her sexual/STI history
  • Do not use a condom during sex

How can I get tested for gonorrhea?

  • Several laboratory tests are available to diagnose gonorrhea. A doctor or nurse can obtain a sample for testing from the parts of the body likely to be infected (cervix, urethra, rectum, or throat) and send the sample to a laboratory for analysis.
  • Gonorrhea that is present in the cervix or urethra can be diagnosed in a laboratory by testing a urine sample.
  • A Gram stain, a quick laboratory test for gonorrhea in men with symptoms, can be done in some clinics or doctor’s offices. This test allows the doctor to see the gonorrhea bacterium under a microscope.

Find a gonorrhea testing location near you.

What is the treatment for gonorrhea?

  • Gonorrhea is easily treated with certain antibiotics. 
  • However, since drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are becoming more common in the United States, the CDC now recommends dual therapy (using two drugs) to cure gonorrhea.
  • For successful treatment, it is essential to take the antibiotics during the entire period prescribed by your doctor, even if your symptoms have gone away.  
  • Although taking antibiotics as prescribed will remove gonorrhea from your body, it cannot repair any permanent damage done by the disease. 

How can I prevent myself from getting gonorrhea?

  • Having a monogamous sexual partner and knowing his or her STI status and sexual history reduces the risk of contracting gonorrhea.
  • Using a latex condom consistently and correctly during all types of sex greatly reduces the risk of gonorrhea transmission.
  • Any genital symptoms like discharge, burning during urination, or the presence of an unusual sore or rash should be a signal to stop having sex and to see a doctor immediately.
  • If a person has been diagnosed and treated for gonorrhea, he or she should contact all recent sex partners so they can see a health care provider and be treated. The person and all of his or her sex partners must avoid sex until they have completed their treatment for gonorrhea and until they no longer have symptoms.
  • Abstinence from sexual intercourse is the surest way to avoid gonorrhea infection.

If you have any other questions on HIV/AIDS or any sexually transmitted disease, please call the Virginia HIV, STD, and Viral Hepatitis Hotline: (800) 533 - 4148.

Last Updated: 10-03-2013

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