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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. These bacteria can be passed from person to person during sexual activity (vaginal, oral and anal intercourse) leading to infections of the urethra (urine tube), cervix, vagina and anus. If untreated, these gonorrhea infections can spread to higher portions of the reproductive tract, causing prostatitis (prostate inflammation) and epididymitis (inflammation of the epididymis) in men, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women.

Gonorrhea also can cause gonococcal proctitis (inflammation of the anus and rectum). In people who practice oral sex, it may infect the throat, causing gonococcal pharyngitis.

Less commonly, gonorrhea can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream, causing fever, a characteristic rash and arthritis. In pregnant women with untreated gonorrhea, bacteria may spread to the eyes of their babies during childbirth, causing gonococcal ophthalmia, a severe eye infection in newborns.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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