The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with the World Health Organization are raising red flags for the second time this year as cases multiply of a “super strain” of drug-resistant gonorrhea globally, but particularly among men who have sex with men.
This strain of gonorrhea has been previously seen in Asia-Pacific countries and in the U.K., but not in the U.S. A genetic marker common to two Massachusetts residents and previously seen in a case in Nevada, retained sensitivity to at least one class of antibiotics. Overall, these cases are an important reminder that strains of gonorrhea in the U.S. are becoming less responsive to a limited arsenal of antibiotics.
Gonorrhea is a STI with most people affected between ages 15-49 years. Antimicrobial resistance in gonorrhea has increased rapidly in recent years and has reduced the options for treatment.
Last February, cases of XDR, or “extensively drug resistant,” gonorrhea, are on the rise in the U.S., the CDC said.
Gonococcal infections have critical implications to reproductive, maternal and newborn health including:
- a five-fold increase of HIV transmission
- infertility, with its cultural and social implications
- inflammation, leading to acute and chronic lower abdominal pain in women
- ectopic pregnancy and maternal death
- first trimester abortion
- severe neonatal eye infections that may lead to blindness.
This past January, Fortune reported the U.S. is experiencing “a rising epidemic of sexually transmitted disease,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said with some experts referring to the issue as a “hidden epidemic.”
Cases of gonorrhea — an STI that often shows no signs, but can lead to genital discharge, burning during urination, sores, and rashes, among other symptoms — rose by 131 percent nationally between 2009 and 2021, according to public health officials. While rates of STI transmission in the U.S. fell during the early months of the pandemic, they surged later in the year, with cases of gonorrhea and syphilis eventually surpassing 2019 levels, according to the CDC.