Factsheet about gonorrhoea


Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. Urethral infections in men and uro-genital infections in women are the main presenting feature, but a broad spectrum of clinical presentations can occur, including systemic dissemination with fever and skin and joint involvement. Throat and ano-rectal infections also occur.

Urethral symptoms and vaginal discharge may appear after a short incubation (2–7 days following exposure), but in women cervicitis may remain without symptoms. Once a diagnosis is made, uncomplicated gonorrhoea is usually cured by a single dose of a suitable antibiotic. Partner notification and treatment is essential to curtail transmission.

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria called Gonococci that can only live inside the human body.


Women may experience a yellow or bloody discharge and find urination painful. However, many women with gonorrhoea will have no or mild symptoms. Men may experience a burning sensation when urinating and a pus-like discharge from the penis.

It may take anywhere from three to 14 days after sexual contact with an infected person to develop symptoms. However, some infected people may not develop any symptoms but can still transmit the infection to sexual partners. Untreated cases may remain infectious from six months to more than one year.


If left untreated, women can develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) as the infection spreads further in the upper genital tract. PID may cause pelvic pain, discharges and bleeding but may also be without specific symptoms. If the infection goes untreated, it can spread further in to the fallopian tubes and lead to ectopic pregnancy or infertility. The infection can then spread even further and affect the abdomen and liver.

Ways to catch gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is transmitted through sexual contact including sex without using a condom, vaginal intercourse, anal and oral sex. During sexual intercourse, gonorrhoea is more likely to be transmitted from men to women than from women to men. The infection can also be transmitted from mother-to-child during childbirth.

People most at risk

Those who have had gonorrhoea infection in the past may be re-infected in the future. People particularly at risk include those who have multiple sexual partners and concurrent partnerships; people who don’t use condoms; people whose partners are infected or who have partners with risky sexual behaviour; young people, particularly those under the age of 25; men who have sex with men (MSM); people with a history of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or who are HIV positive and; commercial sex workers.


Samples from the genital area of an infected person are examined under a microscope and laboratory tests are carried out to diagnose gonorrhoea. However, because many women with gonorrhoea do not have any symptoms, it can lead to a delay in being

diagnosed and getting treatment which, in turn, can lead to complications.


Gonorrhoea is caused by bacteria and therefore can be treated with antibiotics. Anyone infected with gonorrhoea should be treated immediately to reduce the chance of spreading the infection further and getting complications. Ideally, all of a patient’s recent sexual partners should also be treated immediately.

How to avoid getting gonorrhoea

Using a condom and avoiding risky sexual behaviours, like having lots of partners, can protect against getting STIs, including gonorrhoea.

Note: The information contained in this factsheet is intended for the purpose of general information and should not be used as a substitute for the individual expertise and judgement of healthcare professionals.