Pathogen and transmission
Gonorrhoea, colloquially known as the clap, is one of the most widespread sexually transmitted infections worldwide. It is triggered by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which can be found in the mucous discharge of infected persons and is transmitted through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal intercourse as well as from the mother to the child during birth.
After an infection, the first symptoms usually appear within two to seven days. In men the initial symptoms are reddening and swelling of the urethral orifice, with pain during urination and purulent discharge. Left untreated, the infection encroaches on the prostate and epididymis. In women, the infection also mostly manifests through increased discharge and pain during urination; without treatment the infection may spread throughout the pelvis.
However, the infection is often (more so for women than for men) asymptomatic or develops with only mild symptoms and thus goes undetected for some time. Depending on the sexual practice, the symptoms can also appear in the mouth or throat as well as in the anal region - often asymptomatically or as reddening and irritation. A course of antibiotics provides a cure. However, there are disturbing reports of strains that are resistant to antibiotics that were successfully used to treat the disease up to a few years ago.
A long-term effect of untreated gonorrhoea in both sexes is sterility. Less frequent complications include inflammations of the joints, skin, heart and conjunctiva - the latter also in case of transmission during birth.
Frequency and distribution
In Switzerland, as in the rest of Europe, the number of gonorrhoea infections reported each year is steadily increasing. In 2022, there were 5,112 confirmed cases of gonorrhoea in Switzerland, around 25 percent more than the previous year. However, this is mainly due to increased testing in the risk groups. Men account for a very high 80 percent of diagnosed cases, and the 25-34 age group is particularly at risk. Homosexual and bisexual men, persons with multiple sexual partners and sex workers exhibit a higher incidence of infection than the rest of the population.
Condoms reduce the risk of getting infected with gonorrhoea. But an infection is possible despite condom use. It is important to detect and treat an infection early.
If you have changing or multiple sexual partners during the same time period, talk to your doctor or another specialist about sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) and get advice on whether tests may be necessary.
In case of an infection, www.lovelife.ch provides tips on how to inform your partner.
And for everyone having sex:
Because everybody likes it differently: do the personalised Safer Sex Check at www.lovelife.ch.
During pregnancy, regular check-ups with the gynaecologist are essential. In case of an infection, you will discuss measures that can be taken to protect your child.