January 11,2013

Newsflash: Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is here

Treatment for gonorrhea takes a few seconds: a needle in the buttocks and you’re cured. At least that’s how it used to be.

Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea has arrived on our shores. Only a handful of cases have been identified, but the threat of untreatable gonorrhea is very bad news.

My concern is the alarm won’t reach those who most need to be warned: African- Americans, men who have sex with men, and women who have sex with bisexual men.

Am I racist and homophobic? No. I want people to stay healthy: free of pain, disease, and emotional distress. I don’t care who they are.

Why do the three groups mentioned need to be warned more than others about untreatable gonorrhea? Because their risk of getting it is higher, and they need to know that. It’s higher not because of who they are – their racial or sexual identity per se – but because who they are predisposes them to associate with others who are members of the same group.

African-Americans, men who have sex with men, and women who have sex with bisexual men have a higher prevalence of STDs, including gonorrhea. The reasons are related to sexual behaviors, number of partners, access to health care, discrimination, and financial resources.

Gonorrhea is easily transmitted through a single act of intercourse. It causes infertility, damages the heart and joints, and facilitates the transmission of HIV. Condoms are estimated to decrease the risk of getting gonorrhea by 50%.

I predict that all the reports you see about the arrival of untreatable gonorrhea will claim “everyone is at risk”. This is political correctness at work, and it’s a terrible disservice. People at high risk will not be sufficiently alarmed, and people at very low risk will worry needlessly.

Perhaps you’re wondering how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. They do it by evolving. As the number of infections rise (as they did following the sexual revolution, and again in the past decade) there are more opportunities for mutations to occur. If a mutation provides immunity to antibiotics, that particular bug thrives while the others are killed off. Survival of the fittest!

This isn’t the first time that gonorrhea developed resistance to an antibiotic agent, but we always had a new drug as back-up. Now the drug pipe line is dry, and the very people we’re so worried about “offending” will pay the price.

Please tell your loved ones, students, patients and clients that there’s a new superbug out there, and just one encounter could change their lives forever.



JAMA January 9, 2013—Vol 309, No. 2; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cephalosporin susceptibility among Neisseria
gonorrhoeae isolates: United States, 2000-2010. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60(26):873-87

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