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Sexually Transmitted Infection : Gonorrhea (gon-or-ee-ah)

This fact sheet provides basic information only. It must not take the place of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to a healthcare professional about any health concerns you may have.

Background information for patients

Bacterial infections, including sexually transmitted infections, can be treated with antibiotics. In the past, some bacteria became resistant to different antibiotic medications that were used, and treatment guidelines were adjusted to ensure effectiveness. Antibiotic resistance happens worldwide, including in Ontario, and has been seen in relation to gonorrhea infections.  As a result, Ontario is recommending:

    • a different form of treatment (injection plus oral medication);
    • a repeat-test, under certain conditions, to make sure the infection is treated effectively.

These changes will help ensure that any gonorrhea infection is treated as effectively and quickly as possible to decrease complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility, and to prevent further transmission of the infection.

What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria. The infection can become serious if not treated early. Men may have a burning feeling when passing urine. They may also have a discharge from the penis. Women may have vaginal discharge and irritation, or pain when passing urine. Most women and some men will have no early symptoms.

How do I get it?

Gonorrhea is passed on through direct contact with the sexual fluids of an infected person. The infection can be transmitted through unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex with an infected person, whether or not the person has symptoms.

What can it do to me?

In women, gonorrhea can cause a serious infection of the womb and tubes (pelvic inflammatory disease). It can lead to infertility and ectopic or tubal pregnancy. In men, gonorrhea can cause sterility and difficulty passing urine. Gonorrhea may also cause eye infection and arthritis. If you are pregnant, gonorrhea can also be passed onto your baby during vaginal birth. This can lead to a serious eye infection in the infant.  Early and appropriate treatment protects against these problems.

How is it diagnosed?

There are a few ways you can be tested for gonorrhea.  A swab can be taken from the cervix, urethra, rectum, throat or eye.  It is also possible to test for gonorrhea through a urine sample.  It is important that you talk to your health care provider about the appropriate testing for you.

How is it treated?

Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics, usually an injection in combination with pills. You must follow the directions given with your medicine. Do not drink alcohol when taking antibiotics. The signs and symptoms may go away in a few days but it takes approximately seven days to get rid of the infection. Free treatment is available at your local public health unit.

What about sexual partners?

It is very important that people with whom you have had sex during the past two months be told about the possible exposure to gonorrhea infection. Men may not have signs of the disease for several days and women often have no signs, so they may have the infection and not know it. They will need to be tested and will need treatment if they have gonorrhea. Your public health nurse can contact your sexual partner(s), if you prefer. Your name will be kept confidential.

When can I have sex again?

You can become sexually active seven days after you and your current sexual partner(s) have received treatment.

Is follow-up important?

Yes, in some cases, you should be tested again to make sure your infection has been treated successfully. You should consider getting tested for gonorrhea whenever you have unprotected sex because you could have an infection and not know it. 

Remember :

  • In Ontario, recommended treatment for gonorrhea is an intramuscular injection with additional pills to take.
  • Avoid alcohol while taking antibiotics.
  • Return for a check-up with your doctor/clinic when requested.
  • People with whom you have had sex in the past two months should be advised of possible exposure to infection. They should be tested and treated.
  • Use condoms to lower the chance of infections in future.
  • The birth control pill, patch and/or vaginal ring do NOT protect you from getting gonorrhea or any sexually transmitted infection.    

If you are worried or have more questions, contact your local public health unit.

For More Information

Call ServiceOntario, Infoline at:
1-866-532-3161 (Toll-free in Ontario only)
TTY 1-800-387-5559.
In Toronto, TTY 416-327-4282
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