A 20-year-old woman went to the emergency room because of a rash on her legs, arms, torso, and scalp, and the red pustules were caused by an unlikely culprit: unprotected sex. It turns out the rash was caused by gonorrhea that had spread to the patient's skin, according to a new case report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
You might think of gonorrhea as a condition that only affects the genitals, but this case report highlights the fact that it can affect other body parts too.
The bacterium that results in a gonorrhea infection can spread to other areas of the body by traveling through the bloodstream, according to the Mayo Clinic. This can cause a number of symptoms that range from annoying to painful, including joint pain, stiffness, swelling, rash, fever, and skin sores.
Gonorrhea can also harm the throat and eyes. If it leads to a throat infection, symptoms might include swelling in the lymph nodes in your neck and a sore throat. "Gonorrhea that affects your eyes may cause eye pain, sensitivity to light, and pus-like discharge from one or both eyes," the Mayo Clinic says.
Having gonorrhea can lead to serious complications, such as infertility and an increased risk of being infected with HIV. And if you have gonorrhea while pregnant, it can cause your child to be born blind. The child can also develop infections and scalp sores if they contract gonorrhea during delivery.
A gonorrhea diagnosis can be confirmed via a swab of the body part affected by the condition or a urine test, and gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics.
The patient featured in the new case report was treated with two antibiotics, ceftriaxone and azithromycin. The CDC recommends this treatment plan if a person's gonorrhea infection is "uncomplicated."
In addition to the sores on her skin, the patient featured in the new report had a fever, pain in her ankles, and generalized muscle aches. Two weeks prior to her trip to the emergency room, the patient had vaginal intercourse with a new partner, and the pair hadn't used barrier protection (think: condoms).
Fortunately, though, the patient made a full recovery. "The patient's symptoms abated with antibiotic treatment," the report says, and three months later, she "was feeling well, with no recurrence of skin lesions or joint pain."
The next time you start to feel like unprotected sex can't do that much damage, remember that it can lead to an infection that can spread all over your body.