Health officials have been warning us about the threat of "super gonorrhea"—a strain of the sexually transmitted disease that is resistant to all known antibiotics—for over a year. But the superbug is here, much faster than previously anticipated. On Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a cluster of gonorrhea infections that shows both decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone and very high-level resistance to azithromycin. It's the first time this superbug has been found in the U.S.
Ceftriaxone and azithromycin are the two antibiotics that are currently considered the last available effective gonorrhea treatment option. And now even those may be off the table, experts warned at the 2016 STD Prevention Conference in Atlanta.
"Our last line of defense against gonorrhea is weakening," said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. "If resistance continues to increase and spread, current treatment will ultimately fail and 800,000 Americans a year will be at risk for untreatable gonorrhea."
This is especially concerning as rates of gonorrhea, along with chlamydia, are at "epidemic proportions," with these diseases accounting for the highest number of cases of any infectious disease in the U.S., the CDC said. The disease is spreading so quickly partly because it shows few if any symptoms at the beginning, so people may give it to partners without even realizing they have it. Another factor is how it spreads. It can be transmitted through all types of sexual contact, so while people may remember to use a condom for "standard" sex, many people don't use protection for other types of sex — which is why people who have the most oral sex, including gay men, women, and anyone under age 29, are at the highest risk and account for the vast majority of gonorrhea cases.
Because of super gonorrhea and other complications of STDs, unsafe sex is the #1 risk factor for illness and death in young women worldwide. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself. Safe sex is an absolute must for everyone, the CDC says. In addition, here are 6 things you can do to protect yourself from the new superbug.
In the meantime, the CDC added that an experimental oral antibiotic currently in testing is showing promising results.