Rates of gonorrhea are rising in the United States: From 2015 to 2016, cases in men jumped 22 percent, according to the most recent report from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s a big problem, since most men don’t have any symptoms that can even alert them that they have it—though in some cases, it can cause issues like pain peeing or discharge from your urethra.
Not only are more and more guys becoming infected, but the infection might be growing more difficult to treat, too. A new report published in Emerging Infectious Diseases shows that the threat of severe, antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is looming closer. In Canada, a woman was diagnosed with gonorrhea resistant to the antibiotic ceftriaxone, one of the last remaining drugs used to treat the disease.
This comes on the heels of a warning from the World Health Organization in July, referencing data from 77 countries suggesting that the STD is developing resistance to the antibiotics used to treat it.
This Canada case is not the first time a ceftriaxone-resistant strain was diagnosed, but it’s the first time doctors have seen it in North America. Before this case, it was confirmed only five other times, in countries like Japan, France, Spain, and Australia.
When the scientists examined the molecular makeup of the bug, they noticed some key similarities to the strain seen in Japan in 2015, which suggests a possible international spread of the ceftriaxone-resistant gonorrhea, the researchers write in the report.
Currently, the recommended treatment for gonorrhea is a combination of two antibiotics: an oral dose of azithromycin, and an injection of ceftriaxone. Scientists have been monitoring the STI’s developing resistance to azithromycin for years: In fact, according to a report the CDC released in 2016, cases of gonorrhea resistant to azithromycin increased by more than 300 percent from 2013 to 2014.
Plus, gonorrhea had previously become resistant to a long list of antibiotics, including penicillin, tetracycline, and fluoroquinolones.
“It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persist,” said Gail Bolan, M.D, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention in a statement regarding that 2016 report. “We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”
In the meantime, your best bet is to play the preventive game: Using condoms correctly every time you have sex can prevent the spread of gonorrhea, the CDC says. Because most men don’t show any symptoms with gonorrhea, ask your doctor whether you should be getting tested regularly.
By Christa Sgobba