Going…Going…Gonorrhea – Treatment options are dwindling


Comprehensive sex education and safer-sex education is becoming more important every year. One example of why teaching people how to use condoms and other safer sex methods is something we can’t skimp on is that recent studies show gonorrhea might soon be resistant to the treatment options we currently use.

Yes, gonorrhea. People still get that. Its most obvious symptoms are painful urination and discharge (in men and women), but many people carry the infection and don’t even know it.  

Over the last 10 years, gonorrhea treatments have become more comprehensive because the sexually transmitted disease had developed a resistance to the previous option, ciprofloxacin, discontinued as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended treatment in 2007.

A study in the current Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal examined the relationship between ciprofloxacin resistance and gonorrhea incidence rates based on historical data from 1991 to 2006.

The current CDC-recommended treatment, which the CDC says is still effective, includes ceftriaxone, an injectable antibiotic drug and an oral antibiotic.

“It is critical to note that there have not been any instances in the US of patients who have failed treatment with ceftriaxone,” says a CDC spokeswoman. Yet instances of incurable gonorrhea have popped up elsewhere, including in European countries, Canada and Japan.

Dr. Scott Norville is the medical director of Infectious Disease Bureau for the Department of Health. He says New Mexico health providers have not seen a specific increase in treatment resistance, but they are keeping an eye on gonorrhea treatments and potential resistance.

“We can expect anything that we’re treating with antibiotics to become more resistant over time,” Norville says. “… What we’ve seen with gonorrhea is that each new drug over time develops resistance. So we try to use these as long as possible before we switch to the next new option.”

He says staying up to date on safer sex practices is an effective option too.

“This article is looking back at gonorrhea from this point, and it shows if the drugs aren’t working, the disease is spreading more,” Norville says. “We think we’ve treated somebody and we give them a drug we thought was good, but it didn’t do the job we thought.”

 While we still have the current treatment option, practicing safer sex is paramount. Using condoms effectively and consistently is crucial. 

The CDC recommends both men and women get at least annual gonorrhea screenings. Depending on your risk level, getting tested more often might be a great idea.

“If you are infected, get treated with a ceftriaxone injection right away to fully cure infection and prevent transmission to others. It is important for individuals to know the recommended treatment and ask for it,” the CDC recommends.

Giving people better tools to have safer sex and feel confident using these methods is important. Our sex education system often doesn’t give people the opportunity to practice making safer sex a regular, honest discussion that helps people feel confident in their choices for sexual partners.

One sex and relationship educator, Reid Mihalko, has a safer-sex elevator speech template that will hopefully make your safer sex discussions with partners easier and more effective. 

The basic formula is below, but I recommend checking out ReidAboutSex.com for the entire PDF.  Check in with a new partner while you’re still clothed:

  1. When you were last tested and your results
  2. Your relationship status, gender identity/pronoun preference, etc.
  3. Your safer-sex needs/protocols
  4. Any risky sexual encounters you might have had since you were last tested
  5. Things that you like sexually/sensually or might be up for exploring with said person
  6. Things you dislike or are not up for exploring with said person
  7. End with: “And how about you?”

“With treatment options dwindling, it is critical for sexually active individuals to commit to safer-sex practices,” says the CDC. The more comfortable you are with using safer sex practices, the more likely you are to effectively use them. 

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