Skip links and keyboard navigation

What is drug-resistant gonorrhoea?

Tuesday 8 May 2018

A row of unwrapped condoms of different bright colours.
Using condoms and water-based lubricant is the best way to protect yourself from STIs when having sex.

You may have heard about a confirmed case of drug-resistant gonorrhoea in Queensland and be wondering if you should be concerned. Read on to find out what gonorrhoea is, what it means if gonorrhoea is 'drug-resistant', and how to protect yourself from sexually transmissible infections like gonorrhoea.  

What is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmissible infection (STI), caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It can infect the urethra, anus, throat, cervix, uterus and even the eyes, potentially leading to serious complications.

What is drug-resistant gonorrhoea?

Bacteria are living organisms, which means they evolve and adapt to survive in changing environments. Bacteria can adapt and become resistant to types of antibiotics if exposed to the antibiotic enough. Multi-drug resistant strains can be difficult to treat.

Drug-resistant gonorrhoea exists in many countries, including Australia. However, there have recently been two confirmed cases of gonorrhoea in Australia that are highly resistant to all of the antibiotics usually used to treat the infection. These are known as multi-drug resistant strains and are two of only three cases reported globally. One of the Australian cases of multi-drug resistant gonorrhoea was diagnosed in Queensland. Two of these three global cases are believed to have been acquired in Southeast Asia.

How can Queenslanders protect themselves from drug-resistant gonorrhoea?

The only way to protect yourself and your partner from STIs when having sex is to practise safe sex by using condoms and water-based lube. This includes when you are having vaginal, anal or oral sex. You can also use a dental dam to protect yourself and your partner during oral sex, or make a dental dam using a condom. Use a new condom every time you have sex or change from having one type of sex to another, both at home and while travelling.

It is important for sexually active people to be tested regularly for STIs, to prevent the spread of infection, included drug-resistant strains. Testing can be done at your GP, at a sexual health clinic or through services like True Relationships & Reproductive Health (you might know True by their old name, Family Planning Queensland).

Queensland residents who are older than 16 can order a free chlamydia and gonorrhoea urine test online, through the 13 HEALTH webtest program.

A man holds out a wrapped condom in front of his chest.

What are the symptoms and side effects of gonorrhoea?

Like many STIs, gonorrhoea does not always cause symptoms, so infected people may not even know that they have an STI. Others might experience symptoms that go away after a week or two, leading them to think that they are in the clear. It is important to know that gonorrhoea infection does not self-clear and needs to be treated with antibiotics by a health professional.  People should also not wait to experience symptoms to have a sexual health check.

In women, symptoms of gonorrhoea can include:

  • cramping and pain in the lower abdomen
  • changes in vaginal discharge including a different smell or colour, or more discharge than usual
  • pain and/or burning sensation when urinating
  • bleeding or spotting between periods
  • bleeding or spotting after having sex
  • pain during or after having sex
  • enlarged and painful glands near the vaginal opening.

In men, symptoms of gonorrhoea can include:

  • a yellow discharge from the penis
  • pain and/or burning sensation when urinating
  • swollen and sore testes.

In people who have contracted the infection through anal sex, symptoms can include:

  • pain in the rectum (the end of the large intestine that joins to the anus)
  • discharge or mucus from the anus, that might be bloody
  • feeling of fullness in the lower bowel.

In people who have contracted the infection through oral sex, symptoms can include:

  • a sore, red throat
  • pus on the tonsils.

Gonorrhoea that has not been properly treated can lead to fertility issues in both men and women. In men, gonorrhoea can infect the testes, leading to infertility. In women, untreated gonorrhoea can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which may cause chronic pain, infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Gonorrhoea infection also increases the risk of HIV transmission in men and women.

Further reading

Do you know the symptoms of Queensland’s top three STIs?

Gonorrhoea

Let’s talk about sex, baby! Your ultimate guide to sexual health

Sexual health – Queensland Government

Condom 101: understanding how, when and why to use condoms

Oral sex and STIs – what you need to know

Last updated: 8 May 2018