For the first time in the United States, health officials have identified a cluster of gonorrhea infections that shows both decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone and very high-level resistance to azithromycin. Ceftriaxone and azithromycin are the two drugs that make up the dual regimen that is the last available effective gonorrhea treatment option. An experimental oral antibiotic being tested in a clinical study may offer a new option for this sexually transmitted disease (STD). The findings were presented today at the 2016 STD Prevention Conference in Atlanta.


The new findings from the Hawaii investigation are even more concerning than data published by CDC earlier this year that showed evidence of emerging azithromycin resistance across the nation, but those cases were susceptible to ceftriaxone. This is the first cluster of cases to show decreased susceptibility to both of the currently recommended drugs in the United States.

“Our last line of defense against gonorrhea is weakening,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “If resistance continues to increase and spread, current treatment will ultimately fail and 800,000 Americans a year will be at risk for untreatable gonorrhea.”

CDC recommends dual therapy with a single shot of ceftriaxone and an oral dose of azithromycin to treat gonorrhea. Over the years, gonorrhea has developed resistance to nearly every class of antibiotics used to treat it. CDC has been closely monitoring early warning signs of resistance to both of the drugs used in the current treatment regimen. Reduced drug susceptibility can be an indicator of emerging resistance.

No confirmed failures of the CDC-recommended dual treatment regimen have been reported in the United States.

Gonorrhea is one of the most common STDs in the United States, but many people do not realize they are infected. Left untreated, it can cause serious health problems including infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and life-threatening ectopic pregnancy in women.

There is a renewed interest in the development of new treatment options for gonococcal infections. At today’s STD Prevention Conference, researchers from Louisiana State University presented data showing an experimental oral antibiotic under development was generally safe and effective at treating gonorrhea in a phase II clinical trial supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health. These results will need to be confirmed in a large-scale clinical trial.

Read more at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention