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Non-specific urethritis (NSU) - including symptoms, treatment and prevention

Urethritis, infection of the urethra (the urinary canal leading from the bladder to the outside of the body), which is not caused by gonorrhoea or chlamydia is called non-specific urethritis. Gonorrhoea and chlamydia infection are by far the most common cause of urethritis, but a number of other organisms can cause this condition. Non-specific urethritis is most commonly diagnosed in men.

How non-specific urethritis is spread

Most infections are sexually transmitted.

Signs and symptoms

Men

In men, symptoms may include a watery discharge from the penis and a burning sensation in the penis when urinating. 

Women

In women, pain occurs when urinating and discharge may not be noticed. These symptoms occur to varying degrees.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is usually made when symptoms are present but tests for gonorrhoea and Chlamydia are negative. There are no tests for most of the organisms which can cause this condition and it is likely there are some causes which have not yet been identified. Some of the likely causes are bacteria such as Ureaplasma parvum and Mycoplasma genitalium, parasites such as Trichomonas vaginalis and viruses such as herpes simplex virus.

Incubation period

(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)

Variable, usually between 2 to 35 days.

Infectious period

(time during which an infected person can infect others)

Until antibiotic therapy has been completed.

Treatment

Treatment varies depending on the specific cause of the infection. Continued or recurring symptoms may require referral for specialist treatment.

Prevention

  • No unprotected sex until treatment completed
  • practise safer sex – use condoms
  • treat sexual partners (who may be without symptoms)
  • testing to exclude other sexually transmitted infections is advisable.

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