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Gonorrhea Treatment Options Grow By Two, What Are They?

Gonorrhea treatment

Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States, and this stubborn disease has become increasingly resistant to the few treatment options available. Now experts have come up with two more treatments, which have proved highly successful in trials thus far.

Gonorrhea presents a serious challenge

Gonorrhea is just one STD that is of concern to healthcare providers and scientists because of its continuing habit of mutating and thus becoming increasingly resistant to current antibiotic therapy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 820,000 people in the United States contract gonorrhea, yet less than 50 percent of these infections are diagnosed and reported to the CDC. In fact, only 321,849 cases of gonorrhea were reported to the agency in 2011.

The bacterium that causes gonorrhea thrives in warm, moist areas of the body, including the cervix, mouth, anus, urethra, eyes, and fallopian tubes. People with gonorrhea do not always experience symptoms, and even when they do, they are often ignored or thought to be related to a urinary tract infection.

Among men, common symptoms can include a burning sensation when urinating, a discharge (yellow, white, green) from the penis, and painful or swollen testicles. Women usually do not experience symptoms, but when they do, they can include burning or pain when urinating, vaginal bleeding between periods, or an increase in vaginal discharge.

Gonorrhea that involves the rectum may cause anal itching or bleeding, painful bowel movements, or anal discharge. Infections that affect the throat may cause a sore throat.

While a lack of symptoms may sound like a good thing, serious complications can develop behind the scenes. For example, untreated gonorrhea can spread to the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease in women and result in chronic pelvic pain or infertility. Men can develop epididymitis, a painful condition that affects the tubes associated with the testicles.

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Until now, healthcare providers have had only two antibiotics to treat gonorrhea: oral cefixime and injectable ceftriaxone. However, as the bacteria have continued to mutate, they have become increasingly resistant to these treatments.

New gonorrhea treatments
The CDC and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases conducted a study among 401 males and females ages 15 to 60 who had gonorrhea. Participants were administered two different drug combinations: injectable gentamicin plus oral azithromycin, and oral gemifloxacin plus oral azithromycin.

What were the results?

  • Gentamicin plus azithromycin was 100% effective. Gentamicin is an aminoglycoside antibiotic, and common side effects include dizziness, ringing in the ears, nausea, and vomiting. Azithromycin is a macrolide antibiotic. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in March 2013 stating that azithromycin may cause abnormal changes in the electrical activity of the heart.
  • Gemifloxacin plus azithromycin was 99.5% effective. Gemifloxacin is a fluoroquinolone. Use of gemifloxacin increases the risk of developing tendinitis or experiencing a tendon rupture, especially among older adults.
  • Both combinations were 100% effective in treating rectal and throat gonorrhea infections
  • Both combinations also were associated with more side effects than seen in the current treatment option. That is, most of the patients experienced mild gastrointestinal symptoms.

According to Robert Kirkcaldy, the lead specialist on the study and a medical epidemiologist at the CDC’s division of STD prevention, the CDC will continue to recommend the current treatment option but list the new antibiotic combinations as important alternatives for healthcare providers to consider. In the meantime, research will continue to find other treatments for gonorrhea while keeping in mind the possibility of future mutations.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pointed out in a USA Today article that the two new treatment options for gonorrhea are not “the end of the road.” However, he emphasized that “it’s very gratifying to know we developed new treatment options…we need to stay ahead of resistant gonorrhea infections.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
USA Today July 15, 2013

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