Doctors have discovered that an 11-year old girl contracted gonorrhea while vacationing in Italy from a natural thermal spa.

The child, from Austria, was bathing at the edge of the ‘Mirror of Venus’, a lake fed by volcanic hot springs on the island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily.

She is believed to have caught the infection, which is usually transmitted sexually, from the water, which had been used by a person with gonorrhoea. 

Experts claimed that the temperatures in pools could reach close to the body’s temperature and this may have allowed bacteria to infect the girl. 

Hot spring bathing is popular in British tourist hotspots like Turkey, Italy and Iceland. 

Experts say that more Britons are now going on holiday after Covid’s travel restrictions have been lifted. This means there is no reason to be concerned about potential dangers from swimming in these pools.  

The picturesque 'Mirror of Venus', also known Specchio di Venere/Lago di Venere, is a tourist hotspot famous for the hot pools on its shores. But this was also the place where an 11 year old girl got gonorrhoea by sharing a pool with an infected stranger

The picturesque ‘Mirror of Venus’, also known Specchio di Venere/Lago di Venere, is a tourist hotspot famous for the hot pools on its shores. Here, an 11 year-old girl was able to contract gonorrhea after she shared a swimming pool with an infected stranger.

Although the official NHS guidance says that you cannot catch gonorrhoea by sharing water with others, there have been historical instances of it, experts claim.

In the case, detailed in the Journal of Medical Case Reports, the Austrian girl was holidaying with her parents and seven-year-old-sister in August 2020.


Over 35,000 people are diagnosed with gonorrhoea every year in England. Chlamydia is more common than genital warfarets. 

According to statistics, there are 78,000,000 cases of gonorrhoea worldwide. It can be symptomless for up to weeks each year. 

The symptoms usually appear within 2 weeks, but they can remain hidden for several months.

For women, symptoms such as gonorrhoea include:

  • A vaginal discharge that is unusual, such as thin or wet and greenish or brown in colour.
  • Passing urine can cause pain or burning sensations
  • Pain or tenderness of the lower abdomen (this is less frequent)
  • This includes bleeding in between periods, heavy periods, and after sex (which are less common).

For men, symptoms can include:

  • Unusual discharge at the tip of your penis. It may appear white, yellow, or green.
  • Utirating causes pain or burning sensations
  • The foreskin is susceptible to inflammation and swelling.
  • This is very rare.

Source: NHS Choices

After swimming in the lake herself, the 11 year old relaxed and soaked for one hour in the thermal pool that is 20cm deep at the lake edge.

Her sister and her mother, on the other hand were enjoying a swim in an identical pool that was also located by the lake’s edge. 

A painful, burning sensation began two days later.

The family gave her an over-the counter anti-fungal cream to use for one week, while she and the rest of their vacation continued.

This helped but did not cure the problem so the family brought the 11 year old child to the family GP two weeks after they arrived back in Austria. 

After inspecting the girl, the doctor took a swab which returned a positive for gonorrhoea.

All family members were tested again for the sexually transmitted disease (STI). However, the tests came back negative. 

The girl denied having had sexual contact, even though it was being considered.

Because the symptoms started during the holiday and she had no evidence of having had sexual contact with anyone, the doctor concluded that she was infected from the pool water.

The young girl became terrified when she learned that she was suffering from an STI.

After receiving an antibiotic injection at the hospital, she was then given antibiotic tablets.  

Felicity Goodyear Smith (author of the case report) said there had been some delays between diagnosis, treatment, and recovery due to Covid pandemic. 

When discussing this case, they noted that there are a variety of factors that could allow for the transmission of bacteria that causes gonorrhoea to occur in the pools near the “Mirror of Venus”. Neisseria gonorrhoeaePossible.

They described the pools as being ‘almost stagnant’, near body temperature, slightly acidic, and containing organic material, all factors that could make help the gonorrhoea bacteria survive in its shallow water. 

Professor Goodyear Smith stated that the public needs to be aware of the dangers associated with sharing STI-contaminated water at these hot holiday spots. 

She stated that it was important for people to understand that they could be exposed to disease if they were to bathe in shallow pools.

However, she said that facilities providers need to be more vigilant in ensuring people use these facilities safely and cleanly.

“We recommend the provision of antibacterial soap and a shower near hot springs. She said that signs should be placed to remind people of the importance of hygiene when entering hot springs. 

This type of unusual gonorrhoea infection can also be fatal in girls under the age of 18. 

The bacteria that causes the gonorrhoea infection, called Neisseria gonorrhoeae (graphic representation pictured) is commonly transmitted via sexual contact but a new case suggests it can also be transmitted via sharing water in certain conditions

The bacteria that causes the gonorrhoea infection, called Neisseria gonorrhoeae (graphic representation pictured) is commonly transmitted via sexual contact but a new case suggests it can also be transmitted via sharing water in certain conditions

They explained that young girls’ genitals were less acidic than those of adult women, making them more susceptible to the gonorrhoeabacterium.  

Professor Goodyear-Smith said it was ‘almost certain’ that the girl had caught gonorrhoea from the contaminated pool rather than sexual contact.

However, they stressed the importance of fully investigating all circumstances surrounding gonorrhoea cases in children to determine if there was any sexual abuse. 

Also, the authors pointed out that although rare, it wasn’t the first instance of gonorrhoea occurring in children through non-sexual means.

These cases included children that had contracted gonorrhoea while using public toilet seats and sharing towels with family members infected.

The authors stated that gonorrhoea was also common in children from childhood, as well as those who had taken baths at hospitals and other places such as schools.

MailOnline spoke with Professor Anna Geretti of King’s College London who is an expert in infectious diseases and said that although the situation was extreme it wasn’t impossible.

She stated, “It is not impossible.” 

“Reports from the early 1900s or early 1900s mention that this disease was common in prepubescent girls.” 

“We have somehow lost our memory of that knowledge.” The specific case involved the 11-year old  

However, she agreed with authors that all cases of gonorrhoea in children must be investigated fully in case of possible abuse. 

Professor Geretti explained an incredible combination of factors such as the perfect water temperature for gonorrhoea and proximity to an infected stranger would have to be present in this specific case.

She stated that this would reduce the chance of another incident.  

“The bacterium of gonorrhoea is very good between 25-39 degrees. However, it can be killed when you reach 50-55 degrees,” she stated.

“We have found that bacteria is capable of surviving for up to 24 hours when exposed to warm, humid environments,” said Dr. Grainger. 

Professor Geretti said that it is important to use soap when you have used shared hot tubs.