Antibiotic resistant gonorrhea is raising concerns in both Europe, where it has already appeared, and in the U.S., where it is feared it will show up before long.
In Northern England, 16 cases of what is being dubbed “super gonorrhea” (Worst. Superhero. Ever.) have been reported. UK health officials warn that this particular strain may be untreatable. So far, all of the cases seem to have come from heterosexuals.
In December, Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s chief medical officer, wrote a letter to physicians and pharmacists.
“Gonorrhea is at risk of becoming an untreatable disease due to the continuing emergence of antimicrobial resistance,” Davies wrote in the letter, as reported by The Guardian. “Gonorrhea has rapidly acquired resistance to new antibiotics, leaving few alternatives to the current recommendations. It is therefore extremely important that suboptimal treatment does not occur.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is on the watch for cases here in the U.S. They have echoed the UK’s concerns.
“Neisseria (N.) gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes the STD gonorrhea, has developed resistance to nearly all of the antibiotics used for gonorrhea treatment: sulfonilamides, penicillin, tetracycline and fluoroquinolones, such as ciprofloxacin,” the CDC says on their website. “We are currently down to one last effective class of antibiotics, cephalosporins, to treat this common infection. This is an urgent public health threat because gonorrhea control in the United States largely relies on effective antibiotic therapy.
“Given the bacteria’s ability to adapt and survive antibiotics, it is critical to continuously monitor for antibiotic resistance and encourage research and development of new treatment regimens for gonorrhea.”
According to the CDC, men who have sex with men are at particular risk of contracting STDs and are recommended to be screened at least once a year. So, too, are young people aged 15-24.
Condoms should be used to protect against the infection, as well as other STDS, such as HIV/AIDS. Condoms or dental dams can also be used during oral sex to prevent the spread of gonorrhea, although protection for oral sex continues to be a less than popular practice among most sexually active adults.
Gonorrhea is common, especially in the South
Gonorrhea is a common infection. According to the CDC, it is the second most commonly reported notifiable disease in the U.S. It can occur in the genitals, rectum and throat and may be asymptomatic, meaning many people are unaware that they are infected.
In both men and women, pain during urination and unusual penile or vaginal discharge are common symptoms of gonorrhea. Women may also notice bleeding between periods, while men may experience painful or swollen testicles. A sore throat can occur if that is where the infection is located.
If left untreated
If gonorrhea is left untreated, it can cause serious health problems in both men and women.
In women, it can result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), the complications of which can result in long-term pelvic and abdominal pain, infertility and ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo attaches outside of the uterus.
In men, untreated gonorrhea can result in a painful condition in the tubes attached to the testicles, and in rare cases, may result in sterility.
Untreated gonorrhea can even be life threatening, if it spreads to your blood or joints, although this is rare.
Gonorrhea in the United States
While no cases of “super gonorrhea” have yet been reported in the U.S., cases of gonorrhea have increased. In 2014, a total of 350,062 cases were reported, increasing the national gonorrhea rate to 110.7 cases per 100,000 population. That is up from 105.3 the previous year and 106.7 in 2012. It is expected that many cases go unreported each year as well.
In the Southern United States
The South continues to experience higher rates of reported gonorrhea than anywhere else in the country.
“In 2014, as in previous years, the South had the highest rate of reported gonorrhea cases (131.4 cases per 100,000 population) among the four regions of the United States,” the CDC reports, “followed by the Midwest (106.6 cases per 100,000 population), West (101.1 cases per 100,000 population), and Northeast (84.7 cases per 100,000 population). During 2013–2014, the gonorrhea rate increased 22.2 percent in the West and 3.1 percent in the South, but decreased 1.5 percent in the Midwest and 0.6 percent in the Northeast.”
The South had a total of 155,597 new reported cases of the infection, up from 150,780 in 2013 and 153,067 in 2012.
In the Carolinas
In 2014, the CDC reports that there were 14,415 reported cases of gonorrhea in North Carolina, resulting in a rate of 146.4 cases per 100,000 population. That was up from 13,666 cases in 2013, resulting in a rate of 138.8.
South Carolina had 8,253 reported cases, for a rate of 172.8, up from 7,194 (150.7 per 100,000 population) in 2012.
Both states have a rate well above the national average, although neither are the worst. That ignoble honor goes to Louisiana, which had a rate of 194.6 per 100,000 population.