‘Concerning’ strain of gonorrhea detected in Massachusetts, officials say

20 January 2023

BOSTON (WWLP) – A novel strain of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea has been identified in Massachusetts, health officials announced Thursday.

The strain was found to resist five classes of antibiotics, a first in the U.S., according to the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health (DPH).

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The two cases were ultimately cured with ceftriaxone, the lone remaining treatment recommended for gonorrhea. As of Thursday, officials said there was no known connection between the cases and that contact tracing was underway to see if there were any other infections.

Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and other health problems if left untreated.

The novel strain has been seen in Asia-Pacific countries as well as the United Kingdom, but not in the U.S., according to the DPH. One case in Nevada had an infection that shared a genetic marker with the novel strain, but the disease proved sensitive to at least one class of antibiotics.

For years, experts have warned of the waning number of treatments for the sexually transmitted disease, which is one of the most common in the U.S. with an estimated 1.14 million infections annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Overall, these cases are an important reminder that strains of gonorrhea in the US are becoming less responsive to a limited arsenal of antibiotics,” the DPH said in a news release.

Gonorrhea has been increasing in Massachusetts and nationally, adding to concerns about the potential spread of this strain which is more difficult to treat.

Massachusetts Department of Public Health

Healthcare providers were issued an alert to raise awareness of the new strain.

“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 US,” said Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke. “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. Clinicians are advised to review the clinical alert and assist with our expanded surveillance efforts.”

Nationally, cases rose 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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