Gonorrhea cases up; disease shows rising resistance to drugs

Mickie Barg

Gonorrhea used to go away with a dose of penicillin, but in some parts of the country the sexually transmitted disease has become resistant to the standard treatment.
A recent Center for Disease Control report reveals the number of resistant strains of gonorrhea has risen in Hawaii and Missouri.
Culture samples submitted for testing to five regional Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project laboratories from 26 STD clinics found a number of cases resistant to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin.
The Hawaiian samples rose from 1.4 percent in 1997 to 9.5 percent in 1999. In 1999, only 0.2 percent of resistant strains of gonorrhea were found in the rest of the United States excluding Hawaii.
Leon Sabath, a University professor of medicine, said people coming from Hawaii and Southeast Asia have more resistance to antibiotics because of its wide use in this part of the world.
“Ciprofloxacin is wonderful because it can take care of diarrhea that a person might get while traveling overseas and (is) good for STDs,” Sabath said.
He added when the antibiotic era began, small amounts would cure a disease. The mounting infections resistant to antibiotics reduces the current situation back to the pre-antibiotic era.
Marilyn Joseph, director of the Women’s Health Clinic in Boynton Health Service, said antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea has been around for a long time and if it is resistant, a different kind of antibiotic is used.
“Most gonorrhea in Minnesota has not been resistant to antibiotics,” Joseph said. “This is a problem for all bacteria in general becoming more resistant to antibiotics.”
Extensive resistance to two antibiotics — penicillin and tetracycline — was discovered in the 1980s. Since then, alternate antibiotics have been used to treat the disease.
Of the resistant cultures found last year, more than 60 percent were resistant to penicillin and another 44 percent resistant to tetracycline. In the Hawaiian sample, no resistance was found to azithromycin, another antibiotic.
However, in a Kansas City, Mo., STD clinic, 12 men were identified with azithromycin-resistant gonorrhea.
Azithromycin is commonly used for the treatment of chlamydia infection and many community-acquired infections.
In Minnesota, the number of cases of gonorrhea last year reached 2005, less than 1 percent of the national total. Gonorrhea is the second-most reported STD after chlamydia, according to the CDC.
“The incidence of gonorrhea is going up after a decrease for a number of years,” Joseph said. “But we haven’t noticed much change in our population at Boynton. We have a very low incidence.”

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