Case Study: The Mysterious case of the Norwegian Trawler.

In 1993 a fishing trawler came into port after three months at sea. The skipper presented to a clinic with urethral discharge that lab reports identified as gonorrhoea. The symptoms had not appeared until well into the voyage and it was clear the STD was contracted during the months at sea.

The crew was all male and the skipper denied any homosexual sex. The case had doctors stumped.

It was not until they looked further into the matter that they discovered one other crew member who tested positive for the disease, the ship’s engineer. With much embarrassment the skipper finally confessed. He had snuck into the engineer’s room and had sex with the blow-up sex doll he found in the cupboard. As it happened the infected engineer had recently performed similar actions with the doll and had put it away without cleaning it.

The study was published in 1993 by Ellen Kleist and Harald Moi and won the Ig Noble Prize at Harvard University for the 1996 Public Heath Category.

As amusing as the story may be a gonococcal infection is no laughing matter. In 1993, gonorrhoea could be effectively treated with penicillin. Since then it has been declared a superbug, resistant to a wide range of antibiotics and very difficult to treat. As the safer antibiotics become useless, doctors will need to resort to more dangerous drugs to treat the infection.

While gonorrhoea won’t kill you it is certainly not a pleasant experience causing painful, smelly discharge from the penis in men. In women it can also result in smelly discharge and stinging sensation when urinating but often the disease is often asymptomatic (there are no symptoms to warn that the disease is there) but far more damaging as it can cause infertility and chronic pain if left untreated. It can also infect a newborn during childbirth and here it is truly dangerous. Remember that it is only a few genes away from being classified in the same species as the bacteria that causes meningococcal meningitis.

With asymptomatic infections occurring in both men and women, there may be no way of telling if a potential partner is infected. They may not know themselves. The safest bet is to always use protection if you are not in a monogamous relationship and in the words of  Marc Abrahams, Master of Ceremonies at the 1996 Ig Noble prizes; “When you date an inflatable doll, remember you’re dating everyone else who dated that doll.”