What you need to know about gonorrhoea as cases in England reach highest levels in 100 years

PHE says correct and consistent use of condoms is the best prevention against gonorrhoea. (Getty Images)
PHE says correct and consistent use of condoms is the best prevention against gonorrhoea. (Getty Images)

The number of gonorrhoea cases in England in 2019 reached its highest level for more than 100 years, worrying new stats have revealed.

A new report by Public Health England (PHE) shows the number of annual gonorrhoea diagnoses rose 26% between 2018 and 2019, going up from 56,232 to 70,936.

PHE said the rise in STIs was likely due to people not using condoms correctly and consistently with new and casual partners.

But an increase in testing has also helped improve detection of the most common infections, like gonorrhoea.

The statistics, outlined in the Sexually transmitted infections and screening for chlamydia in England 2019 report, has prompted health officials to warn of the need to practise safe sex, including correct condom use.

Read more: Two thirds of British people never been tested for an STI

Dr Hamish Mohammed, from PHE, said: “The considerable rise of gonorrhoea cases in England as well as the continued rise of other STIs is concerning.

“It is important to emphasise that STIs can pose serious consequences to health, both your own and that of current and future sexual partners.

“We have seen that gonorrhoea has become more resistant to antibiotics and expect to see further cases of antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea in the future, which will be challenging for healthcare professionals to manage.”

Dr Mohammed goes on to explain that the best defence against the STI is the the use of condoms.

“The consistent and correct use of condoms with new and casual sexual partners is the best defence against all STIs,” he says.

“If you have had sex without a condom with a new or casual partner, you should get tested.”

Read more: 7 sex hygiene habits you really shouldn’t skip

What is gonorrhoea?

According to Dr Daniel Cichi from Doctor 4 U, gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that affects both men and women and is passed on through bodily fluids such as vaginal fluids or discharge from the penis.

“Although it is a serious bacterial infection if left untreated, it is very preventable and treatable,” he explains.

“The way to prevent it is by practicing safe sex, which means using a barrier method of protection such as condoms each time you have sex.”

Cases of gonorrhoea are at their highest for 100 years. (Getty Images)
Cases of gonorrhoea are at their highest for 100 years. (Getty Images)

What are the symptoms of gonorrhoea?

STIs like gonorrhoea are often symptomless, which is why they’re easily spread.

“If you don’t feel unwell or have symptoms of an infection you may not be inclined to get tested or use protection,” explains Dr Cichi.

“However, if symptoms do occur they will usually display as thick green or yellow discharge from the penis or vagina, pain when peeing, and women may experience bleeding between periods.”

But, as Dr Cichi points out, all of these are symptomatic of many other problems and so testing is the only way to determine whether gonorrhoea is the cause.

How is gonorrhoea treated?

Gonorrhoea can be treated with a course of antibiotics that is either given as an injection or oral tablet.

“Your symptoms should improve within a few days but it’s always important to finish your full course of antibiotics to ensure that the infection has fully cleared.”

While you’re being treated, Dr Cichi suggests avoiding sex until your infection has gone and alerting any sexual partners to get tested which will ultimately stop the spread and reduce the number of cases.

Read more: What is syphilis and why are cases on the rise?

Gonorrhoea during the coronavirus pandemic

During the pandemic, there have been limited sexual health services across the country.

“These services provide important testing of STIs so that these infections don’t unknowingly get passed onto other people, and they provide free contraception such as condoms to help prevent infection,” Dr Cichi explains.

“Sexual health services have not been running at their full capacity for some months now and many people may not be aware that they can still access testing and contraception via other routes such as online, this is likely to be the cause of the current rise in the number of gonorrhoea cases.”

PHE says that those at risk of STIs can still access services through sexual health clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many clinics offer online testing, which means people can order tests using clinic websites, take them in the privacy of their own home and send kits off to a laboratory for testing, and receive results via text, phone call or post.