Doctors worried about drug-resistant ‘super gonorrhea’

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4 Fast Facts:

  • Gonorrhea is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the world
  • The World Health Organization has declared gonorrhea a global concern and has warned that without new drugs
  • Infections may one day become untreatable
  • Marion county ranks 3rd in the country by case rate, behind San Francisco and Philadelphia

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind (Feb. 24, 2016)-- Close to 16,000 patients were treated for sexually transmitted diseases in Indianapolis last year.

Most walked away cured.

But there is a strain of gonorrhea that has doctors worried. It’s called neisseria gonorrhoeae, also known as "super gonorrhea." It’s a strain that is drug resistant and several cases have been recorded in Asia.

“It travels in individuals who go overseas on business. It can travel in human trafficking. It can travel in prostitution,” said Dr. Janet Arno, the medical director of the bell flower clinic on the campus of the IU School of Medicine.

Penicillin used to be the drug of choice to treat gonorrhea, but the germ which causes it mutates. By 1976, new drugs were needed.

In 2007, a new type of drug was developed: cephalo-sporins.  Currently an injectible form of cephalo-sporins, ceftriaxone  is the treatment of choice, so patients can get a more concentrated dose into their system.

Symptoms of gonorrhea are fairly obvious, according to Dr. Arno.

“They will have a burning and a discharge that develops in their penis, several days after contact. It can be transmitted orally. People don’t realize , while it’s unusual to transmit HIV orally, it’s common to transmit gonorrhea orally,” said Dr. Arno.

In fact, more cases of gonorrhea are found in the throat or rectum. Individuals may not have any noticeable symptoms.

“Our teams go to bars. We go to bath houses, we go to universities, we go to schools, we go many places,” said Dr. Arno.

So far, neisseria gonorrhoeae hasn’t shown up in the Indianapolis area.  But Dr. Arno expects some day it will.

“Let’s hope by then we’ve developed an antibiotic that will be effective in treatment,” she said.

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