If you are sexually active, it is important to be aware of the various infections that you can contract through sexual intercourse. There are a number of infections, including HIV and syphilis, that can have serious health repercussions if you become infected. One of the most common types of STDs in North America is called Nongonococcal Urethritis. Nongonococcal urethritis is highly contagious and can be transmitted easily between sexual partners. Though it can be treated effectively, if left undiagnosed the infection can cause a number of severe health complications.
What is Nongonococcal Urethritis (NGU)?
Nongonococcal urethritis is the term used to describe any inflammation of the urethra that is not caused by the gonorrhea bacteria. NGU is one of the most common STDs found in the United States, and affects both men and women. It is most often caused by the chlamydia bacteria, chlamydia trachomatis, or by the ureaplasma urealyticum infection. However, 10% to 20% of NGU infections are caused by unknown infections.
Who Gets Nongonococcal Urethritis?
Nongonococcal urethritis is a very common STD in the United States, responsible for more than 600,000 infections every year. NGU can affect both men and women, however it occurs much more commonly in men between the ages of 15 and 30. This is because the male urethra is prone to infection more frequently than the female urethra. Though any sexually active man or woman can contract NGU, your risk for developing the infection increases if you:
- engage in unprotected sexual activities
- have multiple sex partners
How is Nongonococcal Urethritis Transmitted?
NGU is primarily transmitted through sexual activity with an infected person. It can be transmitted through:
- vaginal sex
- anal sex
- oral sex
NGU can also be transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person's mucus membranes.
What are the Symptoms of Nongonococcal Urethritis?
NGU symptoms usually manifest between one and five weeks after initial infection. In men the most common symptoms include:
- burning sensations while urinating
- itching, irritation, and tenderness of the penis
- clear or cloudy discharge from the urethra
- drying of the opening of the head of the penis
In women, symptoms are usually unnoticeable, however, you may experience an increased urge to urinate, or burning sensations upon urination.
Complications of Nongonococcal Urethritis
If treated properly, NGU can be resolved without any permanent health complications. However, if treatment is not sought, a variety of health complications can occur, including:
- infection of the fallopian tubes
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- prostate infection
- inflammation of the testicles
- eye infection
NGU can also be very dangerous in pregnant women. If bacteria causing NGU is present in the birth canal during labor and delivery, your baby can contract the disease. In infants, NGU can cause a number of serious health complications, including:
- eye infection (conjunctivitis)
- ear infection
- lung infection (pneumonia)
Treating Nongonococcal Urethritis
Nongonococcal urethritis can be treated effectively with a course of oral antibiotics. The most commonly prescribed antibiotics include:
Preventing Nongonococcal Urethritis
The best way to protect yourself from NGU infection is to abstain from sexual activity or to engage in safe sexual practices. Follow these tips to help lower your risk for contracting NGU:
- always use a condom during sexual activity
- limit your number of sexual partners
- get tested for all STDs on a regular basis
- if you notice any signs of an STD, refrain from all sexual activity and visit your health care provider for immediate testing
Check out our STD forum for more information about STDs and men.