Sex: Scientists discover new drug-resistant form of gonorrhea in the US

Posted by Katherine Marrone on Thursday, Feb. 21 at 4:26 pm.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported sexually transmitted disease in the United States, with more than 300,000 cases of gonorrhea reported in 2011. The disease is normally cured with the use of antibiotics, but according to a new report by the CDC, this may not be the case for long.

According to the report, lab studies show that the current class of antibiotics that are now used to treat the disease, called cephalosporins, are becoming less effective at doing so. Ever since treatment for the disease began in the 1940s, gonorrhea has developed immunity to many forms of antibiotics — including sulfonamides in the 1940s, penicillin and tetracycline in the 1970s and 1980s, and fluoroquinolones by 2007 in the United States. This could mean that a cephalosporin-resistant gonorrhea could spread in the United States, similarly to how it already has in Spain, Japan and France, according to the CDC. Scientists are calling this strain of the disease a “multidrug-resistant gonorrhea.”

In order to combat this “super” strain of gonorrhea, the CDC now recommends in its report a new treatment regimen for patients diagnosed with the disease. In place of the antibiotic cephalosporin, doctors will now use a combination of the antibiotic ceftriaxone, as well as a second antibiotic for treatment. If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to drastic complications, including infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

With this impending threat of a drug-resistant gonorrhea in the United States, an epidemiologist for the CDC, Dr. Lindsey Satterwhite, said in an interview with ABC News that practicing safe sex is more crucial now than ever. Wearing condoms, practicing monogamy and getting appropriate screenings are all necessary ways to be safe. New statistics released by the CDC this week show that taking these precautions (PDF) when having sex is especially important among youth between the ages of 15-24, who account for 50 percent of new STIs in the country.