Gonorrhea is no big deal, right? You just go to the STD clinic, take a few pills, and you’re cured, right? Wrong. Not anymore.
About a year ago, some concerning reports coming out of Asia got picked up by the mainstream media here in the US. The reports described a strain of gonorrhea that was resistant to all conventional treatments. Human nature being what it is and modern society being so globalized, it was only a matter of time before this drug-resistant strain landed on our continent. That time is now. Earlier this month, a group of Canadian researchers reported that drug-resistant gonorrhea is here in North America. Before you do something rash like take a vow of fear-induced celibacy, let me tell you a little bit more about what this news means and how you can avoid the infection without searching the internet for mail-order chastity belts.
First, yes, this new strain of gonorrhea is resistant to all conventional treatments. For many years, treating gonorrhea was as simple as taking one dose of antibiotics from your friendly neighborhood STD clinic, Planned Parenthood, or student health center. People who were found to have drug-resistant gonorrhea were cured with a more intense round of antibiotics administered intravenously in the hospital. Not exactly a walk in the park, but certainly better than being helpless to stop bacteria from homesteading in your genital tract, causing all sorts of discomfort and reproductive problems (for example: inflamed urethra, infertility, and pelvic inflammatory disease). The days of regarding a gonorrhea infection with a cavalier attitude are over. Gonorrhea is no longer a “no big deal” STD.
In response to the growing reports of resistant gonorrhea cases from around the globe, the CDC has formally changed their recommendations for routing gonorrhea treatment. Now, instead of taking a few pills and assuming they cured the infection, the CDC recommends an injection of ceftriaxone and a one week course of azithromycin or doxycycline followed by re-testing to confirm that the infection has been cured. (Or to see if you’ve caught it again! Some people never learn.)
You may be saying to yourself, “This is all rather scary and unpleasant, Daniele. What can I do to protect myself?” Well, dear reader, the best thing you can do is what you should have been doing all along to prevent gonorrhea (and chlamydia… and syphilis… and HIV): Wrap it up! Do not exchange body fluids with a person if you don’t know his/her STD status, if you are not in a monogamous relationship, or if you are cheating on your monogamous relationship. Seriously, you guys. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the story of a person getting caught cheating because he/she brought home an STD.
Oh, and did I mention that Louisiana has the highest rate of gonorrhea in the United States? Yes, another dubious health honor we can be ashamed of. In 2011 (the most recent year for which data are available), Louisiana reported a rate of 202.3 gonorrhea infections per 100,000 people. This rate is nearly double the national total gonorrhea rate of 104.2 cases per 100,000 people. Like I said: Wrap it up!
Featured image: Adam Mesenbrink