Super gonorrhea has infected people in the United States for the first known time. This week, Massachusetts public health officials announced the discovery of two gonorrhea cases appearing to display increased resistance to all known antibiotic classes that can be used against it. These cases were thankfully still curable, but it's the latest reminder that this common sexually transmitted infection is becoming a more serious threat.
Gonorrhea, caused by the namesake bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, is the second most commonly reported STI in the U.S., with 677,769 cases documented in 2020. Many infected people don't experience illness, but initial symptoms can include a discolored discharge from the genitals, painful or burning urination, and rectal bleeding if caught from anal sex. When gonorrhea is left untreated, it raises the risk of more serious complications, like damage to the reproductive tract in women and swollen testicles in men, both of which can lead to infertility. And when it's passed down from mother to child, the infection can be fatal or cause blindness in newborns.
[...] These cases are likely only a warning of what's to come. Some of the important genetic markers seen in this novel strain have been spotted in pan-resistant cases from Europe and Asia, which shows that these mutations are continuing to spread around the world. Gonorrhea rates in general have increased year after year in the U.S. And perhaps most worryingly, no clear connection between the two Massachusetts cases has been found, indicating that these strains may already be circulating past the point where they could be easily contained.