What Is Systemic Gonococcal
a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria
gonorrhoeae. It can infect both men and women and typically affects one or
more of the following:
Most new cases of the infection occur
in women. Women who are infected with gonorrhea may also transmit the bacteria
to their newborns during childbirth. Gonorrhea infections in babies typically
affect their eyes.
According to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
there were 350,062 cases of gonorrhea reported in 2014. The CDC also reports
that gonorrhea is the second most common bacterial STI in the United States.
Treatment for gonorrhea is effective and available, but many cases go
Over time, the bacteria that causes
gonorrhea can spread to the bloodstream and other parts of the body. This can
lead to a serious medical condition known as systemic gonococcal infection or
disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI).
What Are the Symptoms of
Gonorrhea and DGI?
Not everyone who’s infected
with gonorrhea will have symptoms in the early stages. However, you may
- thick discharge from the penis
- increased vaginal discharge
- painful urination
- spotting between menstrual periods
- swollen testicles
- painful bowel movements
- anal itching
When gonorrhea infections aren’t
treated, the bacteria can spread, causing symptoms. Specific symptoms depend on
the area of the body affected by the bacteria. Symptoms that commonly occur
with DGI include:
- fever or chills
- feeling ill or generally unwell (malaise)
- pain in the joints
- swelling of the joints
- pain in the tendons of the wrists or heels
- a skin rash with pink or red spots that become
filled with pus
What Causes DGI?
Gonorrhea is an STI that can spread
through vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse. DGI can develop within two weeks of
being infected with gonorrhea. Once in the bloodstream, gonorrhea can affect
various tissues and cause permanent damage.
Who Is at Risk for
Although gonorrhea is a common STI,
certain groups have a higher risk for developing DGI. These include:
- people who have unprotected sex
- people with multiple sex partners
- men and women who are under the age of 25
- men and women who engage in sex work
How Is DGI Diagnosed?
Your doctor will check to see if you
have gonorrhea or if you have symptoms of DGI. Tests for gonorrhea typically
involve taking a sample, or culture, from the infected area. The sample is sent
to a laboratory where it’s analyzed for the presence of bacteria. Results are
often available within 24 hours.
Cultures for testing can be obtained
- the blood
- a skin lesion
- fluid from the joints
- the cervix
- the throat
- the anus
- the urethra
If you test positive for gonorrhea,
your doctor may order additional tests to determine if you have other sexually
transmitted infections. Gonorrhea is often diagnosed along with other STIs,
such as chlamydia.
What Are the Complications of DGI?
You should get immediate treatment if
you think that you have gonorrhea. Untreated gonorrhea can spread and cause
serious and irreversible complications. Systemic gonococcal infection is a complication
of gonorrhea that occurs when gonorrhea bacteria enter the bloodstream.
You can develop other complications
once the gonorrhea bacteria have entered the bloodstream. These may include:
- gonococcal arthritis, which involves rashes and
inflammation of the joints
- gonococcal endocarditis, which is damage to the
inner lining of the heart muscle
- gonococcal meningitis, which is an infection of
the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord
Other complications of gonorrhea include
infertility. The infection can spread to the fallopian tubes and uterus in
women and cause epididymitis in men, which is inflammation and swelling of the epididymis.
Untreated gonorrhea also increases the risk of getting and spreading HIV, which
is the virus that causes AIDS. Gonorrhea can also be passed from mother to baby
at birth. The infection can cause blindness and scalp sores in babies.
How Is DGI Treated?
Treatment for gonorrhea and DGI
typically includes the use of antibiotics. Penicillin was once the primary
treatment for gonorrhea, but antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea have
made penicillin ineffective for treating this condition. Antibiotics called
cephalosporins are often used to treat gonorrhea. Typically, these medications
are administered through a vein in your arm, or intravenously, rather than by
Treatment for gonorrhea also involves
identifying the source of the infection. If you have gonorrhea, your doctor
will ask about your sexual partners. Your partners will need to be tested and
treated if they have the infection. This can prevent the spread of the disease.
What Is the Long-Term
Outlook for People with DGI?
It’s more likely that you’ll make a
full recovery from gonorrhea or DGI if you start treatment quickly. It’s
important to seek medical attention if you develop symptoms or if you suspect
an infection. This allows your doctor to diagnose and treat the infection.
Symptoms typically improve within one to two days of starting treatment.
Your long-term outlook may not be as
good if you don’t seek treatment for your symptoms or if you don’t follow your
doctor’s recommendations for treatment. Systemic gonococcal infections that
affect different areas of the body can cause permanent damage.
How Can DGI Be Prevented?
Prevention of DGI requires prevention
of gonorrhea. Not having sex, or abstinence, is the only way to completely prevent
this condition. If you’re sexually active, you can take the following steps to
- Have one sexual partner, and make sure this
person doesn’t have an infection.
- Use a condom every time you have sex.
- Make sure your sexual partner receives treatment