Gonorrhea: What is it, and why is it Called The Clap?

Neisseria Gonorrhoeae
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What is Gonorrhea?

The Clap. A Dose. GC. A Drip. All these phrases refer to the same thing – the sexually transmitted disease most accurately known as gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea is an extremely common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, infecting over 800,000 new people a year. It is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and it can be spread by oral, vaginal, or anal sex. It can also be passed from a mother to her child during a vaginal delivery.

Although gonorrhea is frequently asymptomatic, that doesn't mean it can't have serious health consequences. Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease in women and epididymitis in men. Both of these conditions can eventually lead to infertility. Gonorrhea can also cause a disseminated infection, which happens when the bacteria get into the bloodstream and spread throughout the body. Symptoms of disseminated infection include fever, chills, skin blistering, and joint pain, which are different than the symptoms of a genital infection.

Gonorrhea is on the brink of becoming a public health disaster. Over time, the bacteria that cause the disease have become resistant to all but one class of antibiotics. Fluoroquinolones, which had been a standard gonorrhea treatment for many years, became essentially obsolete in the early months of 2007 as resistant strains were found more and more often in the general public.

Furthermore, in early 2012, scientists started reporting that gonorrhea was now becoming resistant to cephalosporins -- the last line of defense against infection. Today, in order to address concerns about antibiotic resistant gonorrhea, doctors treat it with not one but two antibiotics.The hope is that by doing so they can stop the spread of resistance in the population.

Why is Gonorrhea Called The Clap?

There is a lot of folk history about why gonorrhea is called "the clap." The most common belief is that it gained the name because doctors treated it by clapping the penis hard between their hands to force out infected secretions. However, that may not be the real story. There have also been suggestions that gonorrhea is called the clap because it derives from related French words for the terms "brothel" and "sore". No one is entirely sure. One thing is certain, however, popular wisdom is wrong about the term dating back to World War II. The Oxford English Dictionary has examples of "the Clap" being used to describe genital infections since the 1500s.

More About Gonorrhea

To find out more about gonorrhea, including detailed information on symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, click on one of the links below:


CDC. 2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines . The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/gonorrhea.htm. Accessed 12/05/2015.

CDC. Fact Sheet on Gonorrhea. http://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea-detailed.htm. Accessed 12/05/2015.

"clap, n.2." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2015. Web. 5 December 2015.

Kirkcaldy, R.D. et al. (2013). Cephalosporin-Resistant Gonorrhea in North America. Journal of the American Medical Association. 309(2):185-187. Accessed 1/14/2013

The Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia: Gonococcemia (Disseminated). http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000645.htm Accessed 5/01/2007.

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