Health officials probe 1st cases of new drug-resistant gonorrhea strain in Massachusetts

A unique strain of gonorrhea identified in two residents in Massachusetts showed little or no response to five classes of antibiotics, health officials said Jan. 19.

The lack of response is something the state Department of Public Health says has never happened before in the U.S., drawing concern and prompting further investigation in partnership with the CDC. 

Both cases were ultimately cured with ceftriaxone.

Gonorrhea is known to sometimes be resistant to antibiotic treatment, but resistance to five classes of therapeutic drug treatment is what is novel and concerning about this case. In 2020, the CDC reported that 50 percent of gonorrhea cases were found to be resistant to at least one antibiotic.

This particular strain of drug-resistant gonorrhea is new to the U.S. Before now, it had only been detected in the U.K. and the Asia-Pacific region, according to the state's news release. Gonorrhea, the second most common sexually transmitted disease, infects more than half a million people each year, according to CDC data — and that number is on the rise. Since 2009, gonorrhea infection rates have risen by 111 percent.

"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 U.S.," Margret Cooke, Massachusetts public health commissioner, said in a statement. "Clinicians are advised to review the clinical alert and assist with our expanded surveillance efforts."

Along with the news, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released a document detailing actions that clinicians should take in response to the findings, including steps to take around testing and re-testing, ceftriaxone treatment dosage and consulting with local clinical microbiology laboratories.

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