Patient (almost) Zero. In early 2009 a prostitute in Kyoto, Japan, went in to a clinic for routine testing. She tested positive for gonorrhea in her throat and after three rounds of antibiotics—each increasing in strength—she still had the infection. This specific case has caught the attention of public health experts around the world, many fearing that we are on the cusp of a global epidemic. Fortunately, as of May, antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea has yet to appear in large numbers within U.S. borders (having primarily showed its ugly face in Japan and Europe), but health departments around the country are bracing for the inevitable impact.
Gonorrhea, or “the clap” as it’s colloquially known, is the second most commonly reported infectious disease in the U.S, just behind chlamydia. A lot of college students don’t think much of either. Sure, it is a pain to go in for antibiotics, but it is never seen as anything serious, especially when compared to the permanent and life-threatening HIV or the permanent and wholly embarrassing herpes. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is potentially life-threatening; if left untreated, it can enter the bloodstream and affect your joints, heart valve, and even your brain. It is also the leading cause of infertility in men and women. Our flippant attitude towards this little bug is now coming back to bite us (pun completely intended).
Since the 1940s, gonorrhea has become more and more resistant to entire classes of antibiotics. Penicillin, for example, the grandfather of antibiotics, ceased to be effective in the ’80s. Now we’re down to one class of antibiotics, and the disease’s resistance to it is rapidly increasing. In the wise words of James Hamblin, a writer for The Atlantic, “If this was the Olympic 400 [Individual Medley], gonorrhea would be the Ryan Lochte and our antibiotics would be the guy from Moldova.” What once was a quick course of oral antibiotics and a lecture on safe sex has become an intravenous delivery of azithromycin (known in the medical community as the “last resort” antibiotic), and an urgent plea to the universe for its efficacy.
Of course I do write this article to scare you, as the subject terrifies me. But the good news is that this sturdy bug can be prevented if you use barriers 100% of the time (unless you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship of course). This includes during oral sex as well, as the bacteria thrives in the warm, hospitable environment in the back of the throat. As if it couldn’t get worse, gonorrhea often flies by unnoticed because it is mostly asymptomatic. This makes it all the more important that you and your partner(s) get tested regularly. In the event that you do test positive, make sure you keep calm and take ALL your antibiotics (and abstain from alcohol, which decreases their potency), even if you start to feel better.
I wish I could say that April 1st came early and this was all just one big joke, but it’s not. I just hope, as a well-meaning public health major, that you read this and realize how this directly affects your health and future. It’s in your hands now, plan accordingly.
Sex and the Super-Bug (New Yorker): http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/01/121001fa_fact_groopman
Here It Comes: Super Gonorrhea: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/08/here-it-comes-super-gonorrhea/260937/
Gonorrhea ‘Super Bug’ Presents Looming Public Health Crisis: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/05/07/gonorrhea-super-bug-presents-looming-public-health-crisis/