Massachusetts health officials announce first cases of ‘concerning’ new gonorrhea strain

In Health

BOSTON — Massachusetts health officials on Thursday announced the state’s first two cases of a highly “concerning” new gonorrhea strain.

A novel strain of gonorrhea was detected in a Bay State resident who showed reduced response to multiple antibiotics, in addition to another case with genetic markers that indicate a similar drug response, according to the Department of Public Health.

This marks the first time that resistance or reduced response to five classes of antibiotics has been identified in gonorrhea in the United States, health officials noted.

Both cases were successfully cured with ceftriaxone, the antibiotic currently recommended to treat gonorrhea. To date, no direct connection between the two individuals has been identified.

Gonorrhea is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection. It may present without symptoms, and if left untreated, can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and other health problems.

This new strain of gonorrhea has been previously seen in Asia-Pacific countries and in the United Kingdom, but not in America, according to Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke.

“The discovery of this strain of gonorrhea is a serious public health concern which DPH, the CDC, and other health departments have been vigilant about detecting in the US,” Cooke said in a news release. “We urge all sexually active people to be regularly tested for sexually transmitted infections and to consider reducing the number of their sexual partners and increasing their use of condoms when having sex. Clinicians are advised to review the clinical alert and assist with our expanded surveillance efforts.”

Field epidemiologists in the state’s Division of Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention are now conducting contact tracing to determine if other individuals have acquired this infection.

Gonorrhea has been increasing in Massachusetts and nationally, adding to concerns about the potential spread of this strain, health officials noted. In Massachusetts, laboratory-confirmed cases of gonorrhea have increased 312% since a low point of 1,976 cases in 2009 to 8,133 in 2021.

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