Gonorrhea, an untreatable STD?

Sexually-transmitted disease gonorrhea is a bacteria which causes burning urination and genital discharge. Without proper treatment, it spreads to other parts of the body where inflammation and arthritis may occur. Gonorrhea usually goes away with antibiotics, but over time the bacteria has developed resistance to drugs.

Georgia is third in the nation for number of cases of gonorrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.   

“The recommended treatment for gonorrhea is a shot and two pills,” said Georgia Department of Public Health STD Epidemiologist Chelsea Riley. “Two antibiotics from different families are used to combat resistance. If one antibiotic doesn’t work all the way, the other one will zap the surviving bacteria.”    

Some have referred to this super-smart, super-resistant gonorrhea as “super gonorrhea,” fearful that one day it will be completely untreatable.

“Gonorrhea develops resistance by quickly adapting and changing its DNA to keep antibiotics from killing it,” said Riley. “The best way to combat this is to make sure everyone at risk is being tested and fully treated as soon as possible.”   

Gonorrhea affects both men and women, regardless of sexual orientation. It is contracted through sex. To reduce your risk of getting gonorrhea, do not have sex. If you do have sex, being in a long-term, mutually-monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative results will reduce your chances of getting gonorrhea. Also, use latex condoms the right way every time you have sex.  

“People who have unprotected sex with multiple partners that overlap are most at risk,” said Riley. “College students who tend to have a lot of unprotected sex or use overlapping partners are at a higher risk compared to the general population.”

Individuals ages 15 to 24 make up the most-reported gonorrhea infections.

In women, gonorrhea can cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, producing chronic pain and infertility. In men, permanent infertility and chronic pain may result.  Babies born to mothers with untreated gonorrhea may have blindness.

But will it ever be an untreatable super gonorrhea?

The gonorrhea bacteria was first discovered in the late 1800s. In the 1980s, it started showing resistance to antibiotics. Now, it shows resistance to every class of antibiotics, including the two being used to treat it. However, healthcare providers will continue to throw more drugs at it before it is completely resistant.

“Treatment will change to multiple doses of antibiotics over time before gonorrhea will be untreatable,” said Riley.

If you think you might have gonorrhea or any STD, please see your doctor or healthcare provider. For more information visit: cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea

Read more about Gonorrhea’s growing resistance to antibiotics from the World Health Organization.