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Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. It occurs most often in teenagers aged 15 to 19 years. The infection is spread through intimate contact, including sexual interactions. When it is present in a child after the newborn period and before puberty, this infection may be a sign of sexual abuse.

Gonorrhea can also be spread from a mother to her baby during delivery.

Signs and Symptoms

Gonorrhea of the genital tract typically causes symptoms in males, but is often symptom free in females.


In boys and men, symptoms most often include:

  • A pus-like discharge from the penis
  • Pain in the penis
  • Burning during urination

If symptoms occur in women, they may include:

  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Bleeding connected with sexual intercourse
  • A yellow or bloody discharge from the vagina

Even a symptom-free infection in women can lead to complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which affects the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes and can lead to infertility or ectopic pregnancies. In males, the most common complication is called epididymitis, an inflammation of the coiled tube that runs along the back of the testicles.

When the infection occurs in a newborn, it most commonly causes severe eye infections.

When to Call Your Pediatrician

Contact your pediatrician if your teenager has symptoms like those described here. Gonorrhea has symptoms similar to other STIs, so an accurate diagnosis is important. If a newborn has eye discharge, you should call your pediatrician right away.


How Is the Diagnosis Made?

A number of laboratory tests can be performed to diagnose gonorrhea. Your pediatrician may take a sample of the discharge from the cervix or the penis and have it tested in the laboratory. Urine tests can also be conducted. If a newborn has discharge from the eye, it is tested by microscopic examination and culture.


When gonorrhea is diagnosed, the patient should be tested for other STIs such as syphilis, HIV, chlamydial infection, or hepatitis B. In fact, gonorrhea and chlamydial infections often occur at the same time. The sexual partners of the infected person should also be tested for STIs.


Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics such as a single high oral dose of medicines called cephalosporins or fluoroquinolones or a single injection of ceftriaxone. If a young child is infected, she may also be treated with an injection of ceftriaxone. If chlamydial infection cannot be excluded, your child’s doctor may recommend treating for both infections.


What Is the Prognosis?

When gonorrhea is treated quickly and properly, the infectious organisms can be eliminated and complications can be avoided.



To prevent the transmission of N gonorrhoeae, your adolescent should practice safe sex.


Immediately after birth, infants are routinely given tetracycline or erythromycin ointment in their eyes to protect them from gonorrheal infection.

Last Updated
Adapted from Immunizations and Infectious Diseases: An Informed Parents Guide (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics) and updated 2011
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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