Gonorrhoea - including symptoms, treatment and prevention

Gonorrhoea is a serious infection of the genital tract, caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, sometimes called gonococcus.

Gonorrhoea is a notifiable condition1

How gonorrhoea is spread

Gonorrhoea is transmitted sexually, by oral, anal or genital sex.

Signs and symptoms of gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea can infect the urethra, cervix, anus, throat and eyes. On rare occasions, it can spread to the bloodstream causing fever, joint pains and skin lesions. You may have gonorrhoea and get no symptoms at all.

Having any sexually transmitted infection (STI) increases the risk of HIV infection if you are exposed to the HIV virus while the other infection is present.


If you have a penis you may experience the following symptoms:

  • yellow or white discharge from the penis
  • pain or discomfort when passing urine
  • redness around the opening of the penis


If you have a vagina, most gonorrhoea infections do not result in any symptoms at all, or you may experience:

  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • discomfort on urination
  • irregular vaginal bleeding, often after having sex or bleeding after sex.

Gonorrhoea may spread from the cervix to the Fallopian tubes (tubes leading from the ovaries to the uterus), causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Pelvic inflammatory disease due to gonorrhoea is often without symptoms, but there may be:

  • fever
  • low abdominal pain
  • pain on intercourse.

If untreated, pelvic inflammatory disease may lead to scarring of the Fallopian tubes and ectopic (tubal) pregnancy or infertility.


Gonorrhoea can also cause conjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the eyelids and eye) in both adults and children. If you have a gonorrhoea infection during pregnancy the baby may become infected as they pass through the infected cervix and may develop gonococcal conjunctivitis soon after birth.

Diagnosis of gonorrhoea

  • Urine sample
  • Swab test from the urethra, cervix, throat or anus.

Incubation period

(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)

1 to 10 days, sometimes longer.

Infectious period

(time during which an infected person can infect others)

Months if untreated.

Treatment for gonorrhoea

Effective antibiotic treatment is available on prescription from a doctor. After treatment, a follow-up test may be needed to see if the infection has been cured.

Treatment is simple if given soon after infection. If not diagnosed and treated early, infections may cause lifelong complications, particularly in people with female genital organs.

Prevention of gonorrhoea

  • Using condoms or other barrier methods during sex
  • No sex until antibiotic treatment is completed, and your usual sexual partner has completed treatment
  • A follow-up test must be done to make sure that treatment has cleared the infection
  • All sexual partners need to be contacted, tested and treated, if indicated. Even if partners have no symptoms they may be able to transmit infection to other sexual partners
  • Testing to exclude other sexually transmitted infections is advisable.

Useful links

1 - In South Australia the law requires doctors and laboratories to report some infections or diseases to SA Health. These infections or diseases are commonly referred to as 'notifiable conditions'.