July 26, 2011
California health officials are preparing for the eventual arrival of thoroughly drug-resistant gonorrhea following reports of the first-ever case in a sex worker in Japan. Adding to the concern, CDC recently reported increased rates of gonorrhea cases that, though not antibiotic-resistant, are requiring larger doses to treat effectively.
"We're not seeing any untreatable cases in the United States, but we're seeing proof that what we've been worrying about for a while has actually happened" in Japan, said Dr. Susan Philip, STD prevention director at the San Francisco Public Health Department. "If previous patterns hold true, drug resistance should slowly move its way toward us."
California and Hawaii are typically the first places in the United States to see drug-resistant strains of infectious diseases, cases that usually arrive from Asia. Immigrants and tourists, traveling west to crowded Asian cities with little health care access, bring new strains back with them, according to epidemiologists.
In December, public health officials began recommending that all gonorrhea cases be treated with two antibiotics -- a one-time injection of cephalosporin as well as azithromycin pills. But the larger problem is that the United States has run out of new antibiotics to treat the STD, and they are now needed, said infectious-disease experts.
"We'll be able to overcome the problem for a while, but eventually the resistance levels will increase and that will become more problematic," said Stanford University's Dr. Stanley Deresinski.
"It points to a larger problem we have with antibiotic development," Deresinski said. "Companies have little incentive to develop new antibiotics, especially for niche markets like gonorrhea. We're heading into a post-antibiotic age, and it's pretty scary to think about it."