Health officials in Hawaii say reports of drug-resistant gonorrhea are false. But at the same time, they’re pointing out that the threat of untreatable gonorrhea in the U.S. is very real.
Several media outlets reported that a rare strain of gonorrhea known as HO41 had been detected in Hawaii. That particular strain of sexually transmitted disease is scary because it has been found to be resistant to ceftriaxone: That’s the last-resort treatment for the sexually transmitted infection.
They got the story wrong.
The Hawaii cases were first discovered in May 2011: They were actually a different strain, H11S8, which is resistant to a different antibiotic drug called azithromycin.
But the problem is that the scarier form of the disease is expected to reach American shores soon enough. “We think that that could be just a matter of a year or two,” said William Smith, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors.
The scarier HO41 strain hasn’t been detected anywhere in the world since 2009, when it was found in a Japanese sex worker. It’s more frightening because it can cause septic shock and death within days.
Gonorrhea used to be easily treated with standard antibiotics, but the infection has proven mutable, and developed resistance to successive classes of drugs over the years. Only a few treatments are left before health care workers are out of ideas.
Bottom line: Safe sex. Monogamy between uninfected partners and condom use are the best ways to hold off a rather frightening future of public health disasters.