Rise in Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea in China May Pose Global Threat

Experts worry that resistance to first-line antibiotic ceftriaxone could spread worldwide
Rise in Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea in China May Pose Global Threat
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THURSDAY, March 28, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Cases of a strain of highly antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea that first emerged in China in 2016 have tripled there in just five years, according to research published in the March 28 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Shao-Chun Chen, Ph.D., of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Nanjing, and colleagues say that this a warning to the rest of the world. Strains resistant to the first-line treatment ceftriaxone (and many other antibiotics) "have spread internationally and collaborative cross-border efforts will be essential to monitoring and mitigating its further spread."

A single intramuscular injection of ceftriaxone is the recommended first treatment for gonorrhea in both China and the United States.

Cases of ceftriaxone-resistant strain of gonorrhea are still very rare in the United States, hovering around 0.2 percent of cases between 2016 and 2020, according to the CDC. But that could change. According to the latest data, by 2022 the prevalence in China of infections with Neisseria gonorrhoeae resistant to ceftriaxone "was 8.1 percent [of cases], approximately three times the 2017 rate of 2.9 percent," the new study found.

In such cases, turning to other antibiotics may be of little use. The Chinese team found that "gonorrhea strains were resistant to other antibiotics at prevalences up to 97.6 percent, varying by antibiotic type."

The new data come from surveillance of trends for drug-resistant cases of gonorrhea in 13 different Chinese provinces from 2017 through 2022. Resistant strains were more prevalent in some provinces than others, the researchers noted.

There are more than 82 million new gonorrhea cases worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization. According to the CDC, cases surged to more than 710,000 in 2021 in the United States, a 28 percent increase from 2017.

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