Gonorrhea, also popularly known as "the clap" or "the drip" is by far the most common venereal disease today. It is caused by a bacterium, the gonococcus, which is transmitted from one person to another through the mucous membranes of the sex organs, the mouth, or the rectum. Outside of these warm and moist areas, the gonococcus quickly dies. It is therefore nearly impossible to contract the disease from toilet seats, doorknobs, towels, and other such objects.
An infection of the sex organs with gonorrhea (in the case of genital intercourse) will usually be noticed by a male within 2-10 days because of a sudden burning sensation when urinating. At the same time, a thick, green-yellowish discharge ("the drip") will appear at the opening of the penis. In females, on the other hand, the infection can often go unnoticed for quite some time. The early symptoms may be the same as in the male: a burning sensation and a discharge. However, it is also possible that no symptoms appear at all. In this case, the female may not realize that she is infected. Thus, she may not only risk later complications for herself, but also unknowingly transmit the disease to others.
An infection of the throat with gonorrhea (in the case of oral intercourse) may produce symptoms similar to those of an ordinary sore throat ranging from scratchiness to severe pain upon swallowing. However, very often there are no symptoms at all.
An infection of the rectum with gonorrhea (in the case of anal intercourse) may cause itching, burning, or bleeding, a yellowish discharge and pain when defecating. These symptoms are often mistaken for a simple case of diarrhea or hemorrhoids, and the necessary treatment may be delayed for this reason. Unfortunately, sometimes there are no symptoms at all.
If gonorrhea remains untreated, its early symptoms may disappear by themselves, but it will then spread inside the body and cause internal abscesses, arthritis, and sterility (the latter especially in women). The baby of a mother who has gonorrhea may be infected during its birth. In order to prevent possible eye infections with gonococci, the eyes of newborn children are routinely treated with a special solution.
Gonorrhea can be properly diagnosed only by a physician, primarily by means of a bacterial culture which is taken from the infected area, i.e., the sex organs, the throat, or the rectum.
Gonorrhea is a serious disease requiring the earliest possible treatment. Fortunately, modern medicine has made such treatment simple, fast, and effective, If treated early, gonorrhea can usually be cured within a few days with penicillin. Occasionally, some other medication is indicated. A successful cure does not mean immunity, however. A person can catch gonorrhea again and again.
The only certain way to prevent an infection with gonorrhea is to avoid sexual intercourse with an infected partner. However, since the disease is so widespread today and symptoms may sometimes be unnoticeable or absent, this advice almost amounts to a demand for complete sexual abstinence. Those who do engage in genital or anal intercourse can at least partially protect themselves by wearing a condom, and by urinating and washing with soap and water immediately afterwards. In the case of coitus, some protection is also provided by spermicidal foams and jellies which are introduced into the vagina. Perhaps gargling with some antibacterial mouthwash after oral intercourse is not entirely useless either. Still, all of these measures are, at best, only marginally effective. Sexually active females are therefore well advised to have vaginal cultures taken at regular intervals. Males as well as females who engage in oral intercourse should also ask for a throat culture. A rectal culture is necessary in cases of anal intercourse. In any case, it may be useful to remember at least this: Someone who has an exclusive sexual relationship with only one partner is in less danger of catching gonorrhea than a person who changes partners frequently.