The CDC in Maine has recorded 370 cases of gonorrhea in the first ten months of this year, an unusually high number. Last year, the CDC recorded one hundred fewer cases for the whole year, and the total in 2008 was nearly four times less.
The infections are occurring primarily in people aged 20-29 with more women affected than men. Most cases have been clustered in Androscoggin, Cumberland, and York counties.
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium. It can infect the genitals, eyes, mouth, throat, and anus. Some symptoms include burning sensation while urinating and discharge however many cases are asymptomatic. Infection can lead to serious reproductive complications in women.
This outbreak of gonorrhea is not confined to Maine. State epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears explained, “There’s been an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in many parts of the country.”
Normally, gonorrhea is cured with antibiotics. Antibiotics have remarkably reduced the effects of many infectious diseases. However, when bacteria are exposed to an antibiotic but are not killed by it (perhaps due to lack of adherence to treatment guidelines), they begin to develop resistance to these medications.
More and more cases of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea are occurring in the US. “Around the country, gonorrhea has a notorious habit of becoming resistant to whatever we’re treating it with,” states Sears.
As a result, the U.S. CDC issued new guidelines for treatment of gonorrhea in August. The new recommendations no longer promote the use of the drug cefixime. Instead, physicians should prescribe the injectable drug ceftriaxone in combination with other oral antibiotics azithromycin or doxycycline.
The U.S. CDC recommends correct and consistent use of latex condoms as the best way to prevent infection with gonorrhea. People who are sexually active should talk to their doctor about their risk for gonorrhea and getting tested.