New Drug-Resistant Strain of Gonorrhea Identified in the US: This Is What You Should Know

In a warning by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, it’s emphasized that there’s a new worrisome gonorrhea strain that was resistant to various antibiotics. 

The strain was identified in two individuals. In one of them, there was a reduced response to five antibiotics that are given for STIs whereas the other one’s genetic markers showed a similar response to the drugs. 

These individuals had no direct connection to each other. 

The experts note that this is a first of a drug-resistant gonorrhea variety in the US although this strain has been identified in other countries previously. 

The Patients Were Treated, but the Meds Didn’t Work Optimally

The two individuals were eventually treated with ceftriaxone, an antibiotic that is the first treatment for gonorrhea. But, this strain was less susceptible to the antibiotic and two others, i.e., azithromycin and cefixime.

The strain of gonorrhea also showed resistance to penicillin, tetracycline, and ciprofloxacin. None of these antibiotics succeeded in clearing the infection. 

According to Amesh A. Adalja, an infectious disease expert and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, treating gonorrhea is becoming more and more difficult. 

WHO recently released a warning that the resistance to antibiotics for gonorrhea has increased fast in recent years. 

Gonorrhea Is More Common than You Think & Its Symptoms Aren’t Always Easy to Recognize

The CDC notes that gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection and the culprit is the N. gonorrhoeae bacteria.

In 2020, there were more than 677,000 reports of a gonorrhea infection. And, it’s the second most common STI in the US for that same year after chlamydia. 

They explain that around 50 percent of the infections in that year showed resistance to at least one type of antibiotic. This means that the bacteria mutated to overcome the drugs which were created to kill it. 

This increased the risk of replication of the bacteria and a higher risk of further transmission. Consequently, this contributes to a higher number of infections that didn’t respond to the available treatment options. 

In addition to the resistance, another major reason is the absence of symptoms and the potential of 1.6 million new infections believed to happen yearly, according to the CDC. 

This infection can happen in any individual who is sexually active. The bacteria settle into the reproductive tract and this may involve the fallopian tubes, the cervix, the uterus, and the urethra. 

Moreover, it may also affect the mouth, eyes, throat, and rectum membranes so any unprotected type of sex with an infected individual means you can get gonorrhea.

Pregnant women may also pass gonorrhea to the baby during vaginal birth. When there are symptoms, they tend to differ in people and often depend on the infected area. And, some of the symptoms may be mistaken for another health issue like a UTI.

Here are some of the major symptoms that may indicate gonorrhea:

  • Bleeding in between periods 
  • Swollen or bleeding testicles 
  • A painful or burning sensation during urination 
  • Increase in the vaginal discharge 
  • Yellow or green penile discharge 
  • Itchy anus, discharge, bleeding, pain 

The Gonorrhea Treatment Options Are Limited 

Gonorrhea was once treated with fluoroquinolones. Today, cephalosporins are the most common option, including ceftriaxone. 

The disease is first treated with a 500 mg injection of ceftriaxone and due to the commonness of reinfection, the CDC recommends testing three months after receiving the treatment. 

This cure has been helpful for US-detected strains of gonorrhea. When the first injection of this antibiotic doesn’t kill the bacteria, doctors need to increase the dose or use a second-line antibiotic. 

But, the CDC notes that if a gonorrhea strain resistant to cephalosporins develops, it will impede the ability to succeed in the treatment of the STI due to the small number of antibiotics that are properly studied, effective, and tolerated.

The community of experts is continuously studying and researching new drug possibilities but this process may take years before they’re available on the market. 

Unresolved gonorrhea can, unfortunately, elevate the risk of severe complications in some individuals like uterus infection, a pelvic inflammatory disease, a higher risk of infertility, etc.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Gonorrhea?

Have open and honest communication with your sexual partner and opt for a barrier option like a dam or a condom. Using protection is pivotal even when you or the partner have no symptoms. 

It’s also beneficial to get tested on a regular basis, at least once per year, for STIs.