After dropping dramatically in recent years, rates of drug-resistant gonorrhea rose once again in 2014, Medscape reports. Publishing their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers tested over 50,000 samples taken from individuals between 2006 and 2014 at 34 sites participating in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project.

Overall, the samples were not nationally representative, so these findings may not represent how susceptible gonorrhea is to antibiotics around the nation.

The researchers looked for rates of gonorrhea’s susceptibility to what are known as third-generation antibiotics, including injectable ceftriaxone or oral cefixime.

Twenty-eight percent of the samples were from men who have sex with men (MSM). The CDC recently reported that gonorrhea rates rose 26 percent among MSM between 2010 and 2013, from 1.17 percent to 1.47 percent. In 2013, an estimated 3.4 percent of MSM between 25 and 29 years of age contracted the sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Between 2006 and 2011, the rate of antibiotic resistant strains of gonorrhea rose from 0.1 percent to 1.4 percent, and then fell to 0.4 percent in 2013—a 70 percent drop. This rapid turnaround, say CDC researchers, is apparently related to a shift in national treatment protocol for the STI. They cannot, however, delineate a definitively causal relationship.

In 2014, the drug-resistance rate rebounded, doubling to 0.8 percent.

“The increased prevalence of reduced cefixime susceptibility in 2014 highlights the need to maintain surveillance, search for new therapeutics, and ensure that gonorrhea is treated according to CDC guidelines,” the researchers concluded.

Gonorrhea has developed resistance to all drugs used to treat the infection through history. In 2014, reflecting on what was then promising news about the fallen rate of drug resistance, the CDC stated, “The potential that gonorrhea could become untreatable remains real.”

To read the Medscape article, click here.
To read the JAMA letter, click here.