Love & Sex

Everything We Know So Far About Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea

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Know all the facts before you panic.

In a doomsaying article about the emergence of drug-resistant gonorrhea, The Verge recently described how gonorrhea will soon be impossible to treat. For all sexually active individuals, this news is rather unsettling, but it seems like we're reading the superclap headline almost every year. This may or may not be as bad as AIDS, people always claim. I realized I didn't know that much about this superpowered incurable crotch menace. Before we all start girding our loins in preparation for a sexual apocalypse, I decided to dig a bit deeper into what this drug-resistant gonorrhea really does and what it's like to get it. If we're going to panic, we at least should be informed. We'll get through this together (just don't get too close, okay?).

1. The government considers drug-resistant gonorrhea an urgent threat.

What we're up against is called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies this strain of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea an "urgent public health threat." The government put together the Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project  — yes, clap surveillance — in 1986 to track trends in drug-resistant gonorrhea. As of 2014, it's getting way worse.

2. Super gonorrhea is spread through all types of sex. That means blowjobs, too.

Drug-resistant gonorrhea is spread through anal, vaginal, or oral sex with someone who already is infected. Pregnant women can give their children gonorrhea. In order to not catch it, you must always use condoms during all forms of sex or only sleep with a tested and monogamous partner. Please note: Gonorrhea loves the back of a throat. Blowjobs given without using condoms are a perfect and easy method for transmitting gonorrhea.

3. The symptoms of the superbug are the same as treatable gonorrhea.

The symptoms of the drug resistant gonorrhea are the same as treatable strains. These symptoms include burning when you urinate, white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis, increased vaginal discharge, swelling of the testicles, vaginal bleeding between periods, soreness, painful bowel movements, and anal itching. In other words, you really, really don't want to catch the kind of gonorrhea that you can't get rid of. Think of your anus.

4. But untreated super gonorrhea is possibly fatal.

If left untreated, or in this case, if unable to be cured, gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which can block fallopian tubes, cause pregnancies outside the womb, and cause infertility. Men with incurable gonorrhea experience a painful condition in the tubes attached to the testicles. It could cause sterility. In rare and extreme cases, gonorrhea can spread to the blood and joints and be fatal. Gonorrhea also increases the likelihood of contracting HIV. It's not a death sentence, but in many years, it might be.

5. Drug-resistant gonorrhea will make gonorrhea overall more common.

Experts predict that the increase in resistant strains will lead to an increase in cases of gonorrhea itself, because the people who aren't getting quickly treated will continue to spread it around through unprotected oral, anal, and vaginal sex.

6. Super gonorrhea adapts every year.

The strain that people are passing along today is not the same strain that your parents had 30 years ago. The disease has adapted with us. Because gonorrhea strains are in their own Darwinian contest to survive, the antibiotics that have been used to treat it for the last three decades no longer work so hot.


7. The superbug is resistant to practically all common antibiotics.

The super gonorrhea strain has progressively developed a resistance to the following drugs: sulfanilamides, penicillin, tetracycline, and fluoroquinolones, such as ciprofloxacin. All are common antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections every day.

8. There's only one known treatment and it may not work forever.

Currently the only recommended treatment for drug-resistant gonorrhea is a dual therapy of injectable cephalosporin ceftriaxone combined with either azithromycin or doxycycline to take orally. The silver lining: There have been no cases of cephalosporin-resistant gonorrhea in the United States, which means the new dual treatment works in America, but there have been cases found in Japan, France, and Spain where this treatment failed.

9. Super gonorrhea is getting stronger every year.

The CDC stopped recommending go-to antibiotic ciprofloxacin in 2007 because 13.8 percent of patient samples were resistant. That's a lot of people who couldn't find a cure and proof of a stronger kind of gonorrhea.

10. Certain cities in the U.S. have more super gonorrhea than others.

The American cities with the most resistant cases of gonorrhea are currently Denver, Honolulu, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Cities where gonorrhea outbreaks are more likely to respond to antibiotics are Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Not to put a cloud on your Hawaiian vacation; overall the incidence rate of gonorrhea is lower today than it was in the swinging '70s.

11. In the future, 10 percent of cases of gonorrhea might be untreatable.

If CDC estimates are accurate, the 820,000 cases that are already diagnosed in the U.S. each year will increase by an additional 57,4000 cases due to 10 percent of cases eventually being cephalosporin-resistant. It will be terribly difficult to treat.

12. Anyone can get drug-resistant gonorrhea.

Cases of drug-resistant gonorrhea, once thought to be only found in men who have sex with men, has been found in all populations gay or straight nationwide since 2006. Nobody is safe, but we can keep having safe, protected, and honest sex to ensure we don't catch the drug-resistant superbug. Be smart out there.

Images via Veer and Wikipedia.