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Neisseria gonorrhoeae Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS)

Updated November 29, 2023
Disclaimer: Risk group, biosafety level, and all other precautions noted here are subject to change after a risk assessment by EHS.


Agent Type Risk Group Biosafety Level Animal Housing Biosafety Level
Bacteria RG-2 BSL-2 ABSL-2

Agent Characteristics 

Risk Group: RG-2, associated with human disease; preventive or therapeutic interventions are often available. 

Agent Type: Bacteria

Description: Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a fastidious, aerobic gram-negative, non-spore-forming, non-motile, encapsulated, and non-acid-fast bacterium. Resistance to available antimicrobial agents is an area of great concern when working with this agent. While Neisseria gonorrhoeae is most commonly known as a sexually transmitted infection, the agent poses additional risks when handled in a laboratory setting due to conjunctivitis and cutaneous disease after lab exposure.

Host Range: humans, no known animal reservoirs or hosts         Host Shedding: direct contact 

Route of Exposure to Humans: aerosol/inhalation, contaminated items, ingestion, direct contact, mucous membranes, percutaneous and broken skin

Infectious Dose: 1000 CFU                   Incubation Period: 2-7 days for gonococcal conjunctivitis

Health Hazards

Signs and symptoms of infection may include:

  • Reproductive Health concerns (i.e. abortion, fetal abnormalities) 
  • Conjunctivitis and cutaneous symptoms - When infected, the conjunctiva becomes pink from dilated blood vessels and discharge appears in the eye.

Immunizations: None available.                             Prophylaxis*: Treatment available

*Formal medical advice is obtained during medical consultations with Cornell Health or primary healthcare provider as needed.

Agent Viability 

Survival Outside Host Disinfection

Sensitive to desiccation  

1:10 bleach dilution 

most laboratory disinfectants

For more guidance on disinfection see: disinfectant selection.

Laboratory Hazards 

  • High energy-creating activities (centrifugation, sonication, high-pressure systems, vortexing, tube cap popping) 
  • Handling of sharps (needles, scalpels, microtome blades, broken glass, etc.) 
  • Splash/droplet-creating activities (shaking incubators, liquid culturing, mechanical pipetting) 
  • Equipment contamination
  • Exposed skin/uncovered wounds 

Laboratory Acquired Infection (LAI) History: Five reported cases of laboratory-acquired infection. One case was a cutaneous infection and 4 were gonococcal conjunctivitis. Persons who are immunocompromised are at increased risk. 

Laboratory Handling Guidelines 

Laboratory Biosafety Level (BSL): BSL-2

Training Lab Engineering Controls Personal Protective Equipment
  • Closed-toed shoes and long pants 

  • Eye protection

  • Single gloves 

  • Snap front lab coat with cinch cuffs

Waste Management: Regulated Medical Waste (RMW)

Shipping Guidance: Refer to EHS Biological Materials Shipping 

Animal Vivarium Guidance

Animal Housing Biosafety Level (ABSL): ABSL-2

Animal Biosecurity: Experimental animals are housed separately 

Perform Inoculations: In a Biosafety Cabinet

Change Cages: In a Cage Changing Station or a Biosafety Cabinet

Exposure and Spill Procedures 

Mucous Membranes: Flush eyes, mouth, or nose for 15 minutes at an eyewash station. See: responding to exposures.

Other Exposures: Wash with soap and water for 15 minutes (open wounds, sores, etc.) or a minimum of 20 seconds for areas with intact skin. 

Small Spills: Notify others working in the lab. Don appropriate PPE. For spills involving fecal material, cover the area of the spill with paper towels, working from the perimeter toward the center, use the paper towels to remove the spill and associated organic material. Discard contaminated paper towels. For spills involving fecal material and all other spills apply (or re-apply) 6% hydrogen peroxide on the spill site, Allow 20 minutes of contact time. After 20 minutes use paper towels to remove the 6% hydrogen peroxide. See: spill cleanup.

Large Spills: Request assistance from the EHS Spill Team by calling CUPD dispatch. Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone.

Incident Reporting: Immediately report the incident to the supervisor and complete the EHS online injury/illness report as soon as possible.

Medical Follow-Up:

  • For students, seek medical attention at Cornell Health or a local primary care provider. Call Cornell Health at 607-255-5155 (24-hour phone consultation line) or local urgent care. 
  • For faculty and staff, seek a medical evaluation with a local primary care provider or urgent care. Cornell Health does not see employees for post-exposure care. 
  • Emergencies: Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone. 
Cornell EHS would like to thank Emory University for the use of their Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS) format and some content. 

More Information


  1. Byers, Karen Brandt, and A Lynn Harding. 1981. Epidemiology of Laboratory-Associated Infections. In Biological Safety, 53–77. American Society of Microbiology
  2. CDC. 2020. Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 
  3. El-Rami, Fadi E., Ryszard A. Zielke, Teodora Wi, Aleksandra E. Sikora, and Magnus Unemo. 2019. Quantitative Proteomics of the 2016 WHO Neisseria Gonorrhoeae Reference Strains Surveys Vaccine Candidates and Antimicrobial Resistance Determinants. Molecular & Cellular Proteomics 18 (1): 127- 50.
  4. CDC. Gonorrhea Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  5. Edwards, Jennifer L., and Michael A. Apicella. 2004. The Molecular Mechanisms Used by Neisseria Gonorrhoeae to Initiate Infection Differ between Men and Women. Clinical Microbiology Reviews.