CDC Warns Gonorrhea Treatments May No Longer Be Effective

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Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can typically be treated using antibiotics. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced the discovery of a drug-resistant strain of the STD. This new “Super bug” strain of gonorrhea is resistant to the last remaining class of antibiotics used to treat the sexually transmitted disease. This strain of gonorrhea (HO41) has been found to be extensively resistant to typical gonorrhea treatments in Japan, raising public health concerns.

“This new data outlines what state and local health departments have been seeing on the ground – that highly untreatable gonorrhea is near,” William Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, stated. “There are currently no new drugs in development for this infection. If this last class of drugs fails we will have no definitive treatment options for gonorrhea. We call on researchers, government and partners in industry to make the development of new, effective drug treatments for gonorrhea a public health priority."

Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea

The CDC reports Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes gonorrhea, is developing a resistance to cephalosporins, which are used to treat the STD. This includes cefixime and ceftriaxone. The resistance occurs due to failure to finish the full course of antibiotic therapy and excessive use of the drugs. When left untreated, gonorrhea causes pain and discharge from the genitals and can progress to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility in women. Plus, it increases the risk for contracting HIV. This presents a huge problem if the STD becomes untreatable.

“This is both an alarming and a predictable discovery,” said Dr. Magnus Unemo, who is based at the Swedish Reference Laboratory for Pathogenic Neisseria.

Current studies have already found gonorrhea cases in the US are becoming increasingly difficult to treat. The highest cases of drug-resistant gonorrhea have been found in homosexual men and those in California and Hawaii. With these findings, the CDC may have to change the current treatment guidelines for the STD. With 700,000 new cases of the STD in the U.S. each year, these findings are certainly alarming.

“While it is still too early to assess if this new strain has become widespread, the history of newly emergent resistance in the bacterium suggests that it may spread rapidly unless new drugs and effective treatment programs are developed,” Unemo said in a statement.

Consequences of a Drug-Resistant Strain

There are an estimated 340 million new cases of gonorrhea reported globally each year. When this disease is left untreated, internal scarring of the reproductive system can occur in both men and women and can become life-threatening. Women have an increased risk for pelvic inflammatory disease and lifelong infertility if left untreated. Pregnant women with the STD can transmit the infection to the baby as the baby passes through the birth canal, which can cause life-threatening complications for the baby.

“The potential emergence of gonococcal cephalosporin resistance is of particular concern because the U.S. gonorrhea control strategy relies upon effective antibiotic therapy,” the CDC announced. “No other well-studied and effective antibiotic treatment options or combinations currently are available [once the bacteria are resistant to cephalosporins].”

It remains unclear how quickly the drug resistant strain of gonorrhea will progress due to the fact there’s been a substantial decline in laboratory capabilities to perform the routine gonorrhea culture techniques. This is a result of an increased use of non-culture-based laboratory technology. Consequently, there’s no reliable technology to maintain an accurate record of frequent gonorrhea strains. The CDC have identified a need for increased laboratory culture capacity. The CDC recommends that state and local health laboratories should develop and maintain the capacity to perform the much-needed gonorrhea cultures.


With the risk of a drug-resistant form of gonorrhea, it’s recommended now more than ever that preventative steps are taken to reduce the risk for contracting the sexually transmitted disease. The best way to prevent the STD is to abstain from intercourse or maintain a monogamous relationship. Sex partners should be limited and latex condoms should be used correctly to reduce the risk for contracting the disease.

If you or your partner experience any signs or symptoms of the STD, cease all sexual activity immediately and seek medical attention. Warning signs of the disease include burning or discharge during urination and unusual sores or rashes on the genitals. Gonorrhea is very contagious and can easily be spread through sexual activity. All sexual activity should cease until after a completed course of treatment for gonorrhea and all symptoms subside.


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