What happens in gonorrhea, exactly?

What is it?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection. There are often no symptoms at all. Sometimes men can feel burning while urinating, pain in the testicles, or there might be discharge from the penis. Women can feel burning while urinating, pain in the pelvis, bleeding from the vagina when they are not on their period, and there might be discharge from the vagina. If gonorrhea is left untreated, it can sometimes spread to affect joints and heart valves.

Gonorrhea affects about 0.6% of men and 0.8% of women. In 2013 it caused 2300 deaths. Interestingly, descriptions of gonorrhea can be found in text dating as far as the Old Testament.

What causes it?

Gonorrhea is caused by a bacterium. It is most often spread though vaginal, oral, or anal sex. The infection can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby. Unlike in many infectious diseases, being infected once doesn’t give you immunity against the bacterium and you can be infected again and again. Our body recognized familiar bacteria through their surface proteins, and the surface proteins of the gonorrhea bacteria are mutated too quickly for our body to recognize the bacteria when we encounter it again.

What happens during it?

Our body has systems in place to prevent us from getting sick all the time despite bacteria and viruses being all around. For example, our mucous membranes have proteins called IgAs on them that prevent invaders such as bacteria from attaching to our cells. The gonorrhea bacteria are one step ahead – they produce enzymes that destroy these IgAs and allow them to attach to our cells instead of just flushing away. In addition, we have certain white blood cells whose job it is to engulf any unwelcome bacteria that enter our body. The gonorrhea bacteria are able to escape from this fate thanks to the hairlike extensions of their membrane called surface pili.

There are no symptoms in many cases because the bacteria themselves are quite harmless. They just want a nice, warm, nutrition-rich environment to hang out and reproduce in. The majority of symptoms occur when the immune system detects the bacteria and an inflammatory response is triggered.

The most dangerous consequences of gonorrhea are a result of a process called fibrosis. This happens normally when our body repairs itself through producing a scar – sometimes, as in gonorrhea, this can happen inappropriately as a reaction to something else, and the produced excess fibrous tissue can interfere with the normal function of the body.

How can it be treated?

It’s often very useful to treat gonorrhea with antibiotics. The most common ones used for this condition block the bacteria from building a cell wall and from making new proteins.

Gonorrhea is one of the many reasons why safe sex is so important: if you have sex you should use condoms or make sure that your partner doesn’t have any STD’s.

 

 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonorrhea, https://www2.tulane.edu/som/departments/pathology/pathogengono.cfmen.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceftriaxone, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azithromycin, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibrosis, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immunoglobulin_A

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