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Drug Resistant Super Gonorrhea Could Become a Bigger Risk

January 08, 2016

Every year, thousands of people are diagnosed with gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease that can infect the genitals, rectum and throat.

The disease is typically treated with antibiotics, but now health officials say there’s an increased risk of a drug-resistant strain of the gonorrhea. Doctors in England recently discovered what they’re referring to as “super gonorrhea,” a strain of the disease that does not respond to typical treatment.

Though this strain was found in Europe, it is a concern in the U.S., as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said that drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea have been found throughout the world and in the laboratory. A few cases also have emerged in the U.S.

Last year, there were more than 350,000 cases of gonorrhea in the U.S., 75 percent of which occur in people under age 30. The CDC says gonorrhea is a very common infection, especially in people between the ages of 15 to 24-years old. In Florida, 102 out of every 100,000 people has gonorrhea, so the incidence of this STD isn’t as widespread here. Mississippi has the highest rate in the country, at 230 cases for every 100,000 people.

How Gonorrhea is Transmitted

Anyone who is sexually active can get gonorrhea, as it is spread by having anal, oral or vaginal sex. A pregnant woman also can transmit the infection to her baby during delivery. Both men and women can get gonorrhea. Women typically don’t have symptoms, but signs of gonorrhea can include a painful or burning sensation during urination, discharge and bleeding in between periods. Men also may notice green, white or yellow discharge, pain during urination or swollen testicles. Since gonorrhea also can infect the rectum, other symptoms may include painful bowel movements, anal itching or soreness in the area.

Gonorrhea is typically treated with a combination of two antibiotics: ceftriaxone, which is injected to kill the bacteria that causes infection; and azithromycin, which stops the growth of bacteria and is administered in pill form. In England, “super gonorrhea” did not respond to a combination treatment that included both of these antibiotics. Experts also say another issue is that some people may be receiving treatment that includes only one of these antibiotics, making the treatment less effective.

The Importance of Practicing Safe Sex

The best way to lower your risk of gonorrhea is to use protection every single time you have sex. Using condoms can protect you from gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases. If you are sexually active, have multiple sexual partners or have a same-sex partner, get screened for gonorrhea every year. Women should be screened for STDs on a yearly basis until age 26 —regardless of whether you have any apparent symptoms. As I mentioned before, most women who have gonorrhea do not exhibit symptoms or display mild symptoms if they do have an infection. Sometimes these symptoms can be confused for a vaginal or bladder infection, so don’t hesitate to see a doctor and get an annual check-up. Gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility if it isn’t treated, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible if you are high risk or think you may have an infection. Once treatment cures the infection, make sure your partner(s) have been tested and that you always practice safe sex.