The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) continue to be a primary concern for health care providers in the United States, with infection cases reaching all-time highs since 2006.

Cases of gonorrhea infections, in particular, considerably increased in 2014, especially among individuals who are between 15 and 24 years old.

Recent data from the CDC show that there were 350,062 individuals infected with gonorrhea reported in 2014, with a rate of 110.7 for every 100,000 people. This corresponds to a 5.1 percent increase in the numbers since 2013.

To help people understand more about this disease and find out how it can be treated, here is a quick rundown of what gonorrhea is.

What Is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea, also known as "drip" or "clap," is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria, which have been discovered to easily grow and multiply in the body's mucus membranes.

The gonorrhea bacteria can be found inhabiting warm and moist areas of a person's reproductive tract, such as in the uterus, fallopian tubes and cervix of women as well as in the urethra of both men and women. The microorganisms can also grow in the anus, mouth and throat of people.

As a form of sexually transmitted infection, gonorrhea can be passed on from one individual to another through oral, vaginal or anal sex. The likelihood of infection increases when people engage in sexual intercourse with numerous partners or when they do not use condoms.

How Do I Know If I Have Been Infected With Gonorrhea?

If a person has been infected with the gonorrhea bacteria, he or she will typically develop symptoms of the disease within two to 14 days.

For men, the infection may cause a burning or painful sensation when they urinate. This is typically followed by the following symptoms:

1. Pain or swelling in the testicles

2. Redness or swelling at the opening of the penis

3. A drip or discharge of white, yellow, beige, or greenish substance from the penis

4. More frequent urination

5. Recurrent throat soreness

While symptoms of gonorrhea are more visible in men, the infection rarely causes overt signs in women. They tend to be mild symptoms or similar to other infections, which make them harder to diagnose. Gonorrhea can be mistaken as common vaginal yeast or other forms of bacterial infections.

Symptoms of gonorrhea in women include the following:

1. Burning or painful sensation during urination

2. More frequent urination

3. Discharge from the vagina

4. Throat soreness

5. Fever

6. Pain in the lower abdomen

7. Pain during sexual intercourse

When left untreated, gonorrhea infection can spread to the bloodstream. This can cause the patient to suffer from fever, rash or pain in the joints.

What makes diagnosis of the infection more difficult, however, is the fact that many patients do not even develop noticeable symptoms at all.

Health experts advise that a nonsymptomatic carrier, or a person who does not show signs of gonorrhea infection, can still prove contagious. He or she is more likely to transmit the disease to their sexual partners when symptoms remain largely undetected.

Pregnant women with gonorrhea can pass the infection to their baby while giving birth. This can result in serious health issues for their child.

Doctors recommend pregnant women to seek the appropriate examination, testing and treatment for their infection from their health care provider.

Gonorrhea Testing

Health professionals can carry out several tests to help verify if a person has been infected with gonorrhea.

One would be to take penile or vaginal discharge samples from patients and have them examined under a microscope.

Laboratory technologists would then add a stain to the samples, and if the cells in the discharges react to it, there is a considerable likelihood that they contain the gonorrhea bacteria.

Despite being a quick and easy form of gonorrhea testing, this method fails to provide an accurate assessment of infection.

Another test involves having samples exposed to ideal growth environments for several days in order to allow them to incubate. If gonorrhea is indeed present in the samples, the bacteria will eventually grow into a colony, making them more visible for confirmation.

Preliminary results for this method takes around 24 hours to finish, while a final assessment can be made within three days.

Samples can be retrieved from the patient's throat, vagina, tip of the penis, anus, joint fluid, or blood.

Gonorrhea Infection Treated

Once gonorrhea infection is confirmed, patients can seek proper treatments from their health care provider to have the disease cured. This may include the use of two drug-based therapies as recommended by the CDC.

It is important for patients to take all of their medications to complete their gonorrhea treatment and not share these drugs with anyone.

Effective use of medications can stop gonorrhea infection, but it will not be able to repair any long-term damage the patient may suffer from the disease.

A particular concern for medical researchers is the increasing resistance of the bacteria to antimicrobial treatments, such as the Azithromycin drug. This makes it more difficult to successfully cure the infection in some cases.

If a patient continues to show symptoms a few days after receiving gonorrhea treatment, he or she should seek the advice of a health professional for a possible reevaluation.

How Can I Protect Myself From Contracting Gonorrhea?

Any person who is sexually active can contract gonorrhea infection through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex. It is highly recommended for such individuals to have an open and honest talk with their health care provider about regular testing for gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted infections.

Sexually active men who are gay, bisexual or those who have multiple sex partners are advised to have themselves tested for STIs every year.

Sexually active women who are younger than 25 years old should have themselves evaluated for STIs once a year. The same is true for older women who engage in sexual activity with multiple partners or with a single partner who has been diagnosed with STI.

According to the CDC, staying in a long-term monogamous relationship with a single partner and using condoms can help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea, but the most effective way to avoid getting such infections is by not engaging in vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

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