Gonorrhea is much more obvious in males because they develop an acute discharge of pus from the urethra. Scarce when it starts, it becomes thicker and heavier and causes frequent urination. When urination takes place, there will be a burning sensation. If the prostate becomes infected, the passage of urine is partly obstructed. In females the infection occurs in the urethra, the vagina, or the cervix. Although discharge and irritation of the vaginal mucous membranes may be severe. Nearly few or no early symptoms will appear.
Gonorrhea is diagnosed by staining a smear of the discharge to expose the bacteria. Treatment in the early stages is usually effective. If the disease is untreated in the male, the early symptoms may subside, but the infection may spread to the testicles causing sterility. In the untreated female the infection usually spreads from the cervix into the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease. Severe pain may occur, or the infection may stay behind with few or no symptoms. While doing this, it will be gradually damaging the tubes and leaving the woman sterile. In both sexes the gonococcus may enter the bloodstream, resulting in arthritis, heart inflammation, or other diseases. Gonorrhea in pregnant women may be transmitted to the infant during birth and may, if untreated, cause a serious eye infection.
Penicillin is commonly used against gonorrhea, although over the years an increasing number of penicillin resistant strains have been found. Other effective antibiotics are tetracycline, spectinomycin, and the newer ones called cephalosporins. One antibiotic called ceftriaxone can cure uncomplicated gonorrhea, including infections resistant to penicillin, with a single injection.
Gonorrhea increased greatly in the U.S. almost reaching epidemic proportions in adolescents and young adults. In most large cities clinics have been established where young people can get treatment. One of the most difficult tasks in controlling gonorrhea is locating all recent sexual contacts of an infected person in order to prevent further spread of the disease.