It is difficult to tell whether you have gonorrhea based on how you feel. Like other STDs, the only surefire way to know whether you have gonorrhea or not is to get tested. When it comes to gonorrhea testing, three types of tests are commonly used, each of which has its pros and cons.
1. Bacterial Culture
A bacterial culture is highly effective for diagnosing gonorrhea of the throat, genitals, rectum, and eyes. A swab of the suspected site is taken and the collected cells are added to a substance that’s designed to boost the growth of N. gonorrhoeae. In case there is growth, the test is deemed positive. The test is considered negative if there is no growth.
A bacterial culture can also be used to establish whether the bacterium is resistant to the available antibiotics. This is significant in cases where a drug fails to eliminate the infection or where there are severe complications such as when the bacterium has spread to multiple organs (or what’s referred to as disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI)).
2. Gram staining
In this test, special dyes are used to stain the bacteria’s walls to make it easy to be identified and isolated (under the microscope). It is an effective way of diagnosing gonorrheal infections in men. However, it is considerably less accurate in women considering that the concentration of gonorrhea in women is often diffuse, and can be easily mistaken for other naturally-occurring vaginal bacteria. Additionally, gram tests have lower sensitivity, so negative results in asymptomatic men cannot be considered definitive.
3. Nucleic Amplification Test (NAAT)
This is a form of genetic testing that was developed in 1993. It is highly recommended for genital and urinary gonorrhea because of its speed and accuracy. Instead of looking for the bacteria itself, the genes of N. gonorrhea are identified. This is done by obtaining the strands of DNA of the bacteria from a urine sample or swab taken from vagina, cervix or urethra. The strands are then duplicated (through a process called thermocycling) until they are about a billion copies.
Because the test provides a genetic footprint of the infection, NAAT often delivers highly accurate results within hours. If you opt for this method of testing gonorrhea, you can get your results within 2-3 days.
Gonorrhea is one of the most common STDs in the United States, and account for 800,000 infections annually. It is, therefore, highly recommended to get tested or screened regularly, especially if you sexually active. Generally, the tests are fast, painless, and sometimes offered freely.