Mass DPH announces first cases of new strain of gonorrhea

MASS. – The Department of Public Health is reporting the first cases of a new strain of gonorrhea in Massachusetts residents.

According to the DPH, they detected a new strain of gonorrhea in one resident who showed a reduced response to multiple antibiotics and another case with genetic markers indicating a similar drug response. This is the first time resistance or impaired response to five classes of antibiotics has been identified in gonorrhea in the United States

Both cases in Massachusetts were successfully treated with ceftriaxone, the antibiotic currently recommended for treating gonorrhea. To date, no direct link has been identified between the two individuals.

“The discovery of this strain of gonorrhea is a serious public health concern that the DPH, CDC and other health departments have been alert to detect in the United States,” said Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke. “We urge all sexually active people to get tested regularly for STIs and to consider reducing the number of their sexual partners and increasing the use of condoms during sex. Physicians are advised to review the clinical alert and assist with our expanded surveillance efforts.

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection. It can occur without symptoms and, if left untreated, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and other health problems.

This strain of gonorrhea has previously been observed in Asia-Pacific countries and the United Kingdom, but not in the United States. A genetic marker common to these two Massachusetts residents was also previously seen in a Nevada case, although that strain retained susceptibility to at least one class of antibiotics.

Taken together, these cases are an important reminder that strains of gonorrhea in the United States are becoming less susceptible to a limited arsenal of antibiotics.

The Massachusetts cases were detected by the DPH state’s Public Health Laboratory as part of its disease surveillance efforts. Field epidemiologists from DPH’s Division of STD Prevention are conducting contact tracing to determine if other people have contracted this infection.

DPH has issued an alert to physicians and laboratories to raise awareness of this new strain. Advisory recommends increased use of lab culture testing for people with gonorrhea symptoms to detect antibiotic resistance and reminds providers of process for submitting gonorrhea samples to State Public Health Laboratory to support surveillance of DPH and CDC for further resistance in this organism.

Gonorrhea is on the rise in Massachusetts and nationwide, raising concerns about the potential spread of this more difficult-to-treat strain.

In Massachusetts, laboratory-confirmed gonorrhea cases increased 312% from a low of 1,976 cases in 2009 to 8,133 in 2021. Nationally, confirmed cases increased 131% between 2009 and 2021, with 696,764 cases reported in the United States in 2021 according to preliminary data released by the CDC.

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