Mass. health department warns of drug-resistant gonorrhea strain
This is the first time five different classes of antibiotics were found to be less effective against a strain of gonorrhea.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) is warning residents of a new strain of drug-resistant gonorrhea detected in the state.
The DPH said in a news release Thursday that multiple antibiotics were found to be less effective against this strain of gonorrhea. This is the first time five different classes of antibiotics were found to be less effective against a strain of gonorrhea in the U.S.
Two Massachusetts residents were infected with this strain, but so far, DPH doesn’t believe the cases are connected. The DPH is in the process of doing contact tracing to see if anyone else might be infected.
Ultimately, both cases were cured with ceftriaxone, the antibiotic currently recommended to treat gonorrhea, the DPH said.
“The discovery of this strain of gonorrhea is a serious public health concern which DPH, the CDC, and other health departments have been vigilant about detecting in the U.S.,” Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke said.
“We urge all sexually active people to be regularly tested for sexually transmitted infections and to consider reducing the number of their sexual partners and increasing their use of condoms when having sex.”
Gonorrhea is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection that can be present without causing symptoms, the DPH said. If left untreated, it can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and other health problems.
This strain of gonorrhea has been detected in Asia-Pacific countries and in the U.K., the DPH said. A genetic marker of the strain was also previously detected in a case in Nevada, but at least one class of antibiotics remained effective against this infection.
“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,” the DPH wrote in the release.
The DPH is now working with the CDC and local hospitals to expand testing of gonorrhea specimens to find out whether this strain might have infected other patients. The DPH is also asking doctors to send more gonorrhea samples to the state lab for testing.
Gonorrhea infections have been increasing in Massachusetts and nationally, which makes the discovery of a drug-resistant strain more concerning, the DPH said.
In Massachusetts, lab-confirmed cases of gonorrhea have increased 312% from a low point of 1,976 cases in 2009 to 8,133 in 2021, the DPH said. Nationally, confirmed cases have risen by 131% between 2009 and 2021, with 696,764 cases reported in the U.S. in 2021, according to preliminary data released by the CDC.
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