Here It Comes: Super Gonorrhea :-/

The CDC announced that we're down to our last effective antibiotic.

gonorrheaMAIN.jpgtonrulkens/Flickr

I just got out of a telebriefing with the CDC. The atmosphere was not a jovial one. The words "gonorrhea epidemic" were thrown around in ominous tones. No one was up for hanging out after.

Did you know gonorrhea can kill you? It can, and it's also tragically effective at making women infertile. According to her journals, my great aunt Mabel was "barren," and my grandmother always told me it was probably from gonorrhea. The only reason we don't hear about these awful complications more often -- and we instead think of it as a little oops of an infection ("Can I still drink on these antibiotics?" "Yes." "Cool.") -- is because we've been able to kill it early with relative ease.

But over the past decades, gonorrhea has been mowing down our antibiotics. If this was the Olympic 400 IM, gonorrhea would be the Ryan Lochte and our antibiotics would be the guy from Moldova.

The list of effective antibiotics has been dwindling as the bacteria became resistant, and now it's down to one. Five years ago, the CDC said fluoroquinolones were no longer effective, but oral cephalosporins were still a common/easy treatment. Now injected ceftriaxone is the only recommended effective drug we have left. And it has to be given along with either azithromycin or doxycycline.

CDCgontx.jpgCDC

So, yes, getting gonorrhea now means that you have to go in and get antibiotics through a needle. And then everyone with whom you've had sex in the last 60 days has to get tested, too.

Once gonorrhea becomes resistant to the last of our cephalosporin antibiotics -- "it's only a matter of time," according to Dr. Gail Bolan, Director of STD Prevention at the CDC in today's announcement -- we will have no treatment. Then when it gets into your bloodstream, it will be lethal.

I always have this sense that someone will figure it out before that time comes, but there is very little research and development going on right now in this area. Dr. Bolan mentioned one set of ongoing clinical trials.

Here is the full CDC Statement. Here is a gonorrhea FAQ that you can post on your Facebook wall. And apart from conducting high-level antibiotic research in your garage or home office, what else can you do? 

First, only take antibiotics exactly as prescribed and directed (that's true for any infection). Finish the entire course of the prescription, even if you're feeling better. That will decrease the bacteria's ability to develop resistance.

Also, you can avoid getting gonorrhea. Condoms and regular testing are great, but the only way to definitely not get gonorrhea is to not have sex (with someone who has gonorrhea). I'm not saying this is a call for sex robots. That's not what I'm saying. But if it does lead to advancements in sex robot technology, well, so be it.

And don't not seek treatment because gonorrhea is still stigmatized and means you need an injection. The complications aren't worth it. Sixty-four million people get it every year; 700,000 in the United States alone. You're far from the only person who'll get it, and you'll be fine, just be smart and communicative. We're going to have to start talking a lot more about gonorrhea. Gonorrhea, gonorrhea, gonorrhea. 

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Health

Just In