Floridians can relax – at least about a strain of gonorrhea (GC) in the US that is supposedly worse than AIDS. The story perpetuated by several media outlets recently is completely inaccurate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The H041 strain referenced in many of the articles and broadcasts actually refers to a case detected in Japan several years ago. This strain has not been detected since then, and was, in fact, never reported in the United States.
Experts at the CDC are, however, concerned about perhaps a bigger issue – the threat of drug resistant gonorrhea in this country.
Gonorrhea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacterium spread primarily through sexual contact, but also from mother to baby during delivery.
In 2012, after the bacterium was shown to be resistant to a series of drugs once successful in treating this disease, the CDC revised its guidelines, recommending only one class of antibiotics- the cephalosporins.
While the current treatment regimen has been shown to be effective in the United Sates, there is a small, but growing number of cases in other countries that are now resistant even to the cephalosporins.
In order to stave off the possibility of that happening here soon, the CDC has modified its guidelines yet again to recommend that physicians discontinue the oral form of the cephalosporin (cefixime) if possible and use the injectable form (ceftrixone). One week after treatment, providers should perform a test of cure in order to be able to report treatment failures.
Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported infectious disease in the US. It is estimated that more than 700,000 Americans are infected every year, but only half are diagnosed and reported to the CDC. That means that their partners can not be notified and treated.
In 2010, over 20,000 cases were reported in Florida. Gonorrhea rates for 15 to 24 year olds are at least twice as high as any group over age 25 in the state.
Without treatment, women run the risk of developing infertility from serious pelvic inflammatory disease. They are also at higher risk for life-threatening ectopic (tubal) pregnancies. Men who go untreated can become infertile as a result of epididymitis, a very painful inflammation of the testicles.
The CDC is working with the National Institutes of Health to test new combinations of existing antibiotics to discover effective treatments for gonorrhea, but acknowledge that it is likely that newer drugs and approaches will be needed and urge private pharmaceutical companies to make this a priority.
For more information:
– about gonorrhea and recommended treatment regimens, please see CDC’s fact sheet on the topic
– discussion of Florida’s concerns about failure of treatment as an emerging issue, check out the Florida Department of Health website