The Facts on Gonorrhea and Pregnancy

June 11, 2008

Of the many STDs that women can contract, one of the well known ones is gonorrhea.  Gonorrhea is a serious bacterial infection that is transmitted through the genitals or through oral or anal sex.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 650,000 new cases of gonorrhea occur in the United States each year.  This number includes about 40,000 pregnant women.  For women, these rates are the highest for sexually active women under the ages of 25.  It is essential to know what to do if you have gonorrhea, especially if you are pregnant.

How Does Gonorrhea Affect a Pregnancy?

Women can transmit gonorrhea to a baby during labor, as the baby exits through the birth canal.  For the mother, gonorrhea during pregnancy can mean a higher chance of miscarriage.  It can also mean preterm labor, a premature rupture of the membranes, infections of the amniotic sac and fluid, and other problems.  Women who continue to be untreated and have gonorrhea are more susceptible to HIV and other STDs.  If a baby contracts the disease from you during delivery, the most common problem will be an eye infection that can lead to blindness.  For this reason, most states require all babies to be treated with drops immediately after birth.  If the delivery team knows the baby has an eye infection from gonorrhea, then the baby will also be treated with antibiotics.  

How Will You Know If You Have Gonorrhea?

Most often, women do not realize that they have gonorrhea, as it doesn't always present with symptoms.  If you do experience symptoms, they will occur about ten days after having sex with an infected person and they can include extra vaginal discharge, burning or pain while urinating, bleeding during sex, and itching.  If you are pregnant, gonorrhea infections usually occur in the cervix, urethra and vagina. Although uncommon, gonorrhea can enter the bloodstream and cause something called disseminated gonococcal infection.  This creates many problems including sores on the skin, infections and pain in the joints, and even heart infections and meningitis.  This problem is more common in women than it is in men, and it seems to occur more in pregnant women than in those who aren't expecting.

How Will You Be Treated for Gonorrhea During a Pregnancy?

It is important for you to let your practitioner know if you think you've been exposed to gonorrhea.  This disease is not automatically screened for at the first prenatal visit, as are many others.  The Centers for Disease Control only recommend gonorrhea testing for women who are at particularly high risk for STDs or for those who live in areas with high rates of the disease.  If you think you might have gonorrhea, you need to ask your provider to test you for it.  Your doctor will take a swab of your cervical fluid and send it to the lab to be analyzed.  If the results come back positive, you'll immediately begin treatment, and you'll be treated for other STDs, as they often come together.  About 40% of people who have gonorrhea also have chlamydia, so you'll certainly be tested for that and potentially treated for both together.  Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics that are safe to take during pregnancy.  Your partner will also need to be treated and you'll need to refrain from having sex until you've both completed the entire treatment.

How Do You Stay Safe?

Avoiding gonorrhea is, of course, the best course of action.  In order to stay safe and clean, you can abstain from sex completely.  Otherwise, you need to use latex condoms consistently and correctly and make sure to be careful about the partners that you select.  You should always have protected sex and relations.  If you suspect that you have a problem, seek out a doctor's help immediately so that you can be treated.  These are the best ways to guarantee a safe pregnancy and a healthy child.

 

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