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CDC: Antibiotics for Gonorrhea Losing Their Effectiveness

November 01, 2016

New information from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) indicates that two antibiotic treatments for gonorrhea may be losing their effectiveness.

The CDC recently issued a news release saying it had identified a cluster of gonorrhea infections that showed a high-level of resistance to azithromycin and a lower susceptibility to ceftriaxone, two antibiotics typically used to treat the infection. Both antibiotics are given in combination as a treatment for gonorrhea, a bacterial infection transmitted during sexual intercourse. In 2014, there were more than 350,000 of these cases in the U.S. alone, a 5.1 percent increase from the prior year.

The CDC’s new findings come after an investigation in Hawaii in which researchers gathered gonorrhea samples from seven patients. The CDC also published data earlier this year that showed an increased resistance to azithromycin. However, these infections still were responsive to ceftriaxone. The trend has health experts worried.

“Our last line of defense against gonorrhea is weakening,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “If resistance continues to increase and spread, current treatment will ultimately fail and 800,000 Americans a year will be at risk for untreatable gonorrhea.”

More than 97 percent of gonorrhea cases are currently treated using the dual regimen of azithromycin and ceftriaxone, so if these drugs are losing their effectiveness it could put patients at greater risk for complications. Women who have gonorrhea may face infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and pregnancy complications if the infection isn’t properly treated. They also risk passing on the infection during childbirth. Men may experience painful urination, discharge and swollen testicles.

Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the country, so we must find other treatment alternatives before the current standard of care becomes obsolete. Researchers already are making strides in this area, as a team from Louisiana State University presented data about an experimental oral antibiotic at the CDC’s STD Prevention Conference in Atlanta. The drug was shown to be safe and effective during phase II clinical trials, but a larger trial is still needed to confirm the results and move the drug closer toward FDA approval.

If you are concerned about getting gonorrhea, practice safe sex to reduce your risk and get yearly screenings for STDs. If you notice symptoms like green or yellow discharge, painful urination, bleeding or painful bowel movements, schedule an appointment for a physical exam with your doctor as soon as possible. Antibiotics can stop the spread of the infection, but preventing it in the first place is a more effective option.