Research continues to find treatment for gonorrhea.(Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
By Lindsay Friedman , USA TODAY
With a dwindling arsenal of effective treatments, physicians have
worked together to add two more weapons in the fight against gonorrhea,
a common sexually transmitted disease that has become resistant to a
primary antibiotic method used to treat it.
this week will announce the result of a trial of the new treatments at
an international conference on sexually transmitted diseases in Vienna.
clinical trial, funded and conducted by the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious
Diseases, included 401 infected men and women ages 15-60, who were
given two different combinations of injectable and oral antibiotics
widely available in the USA. Results showed a 100% rate of
effectiveness in one combination of antibiotics (injectable gentamicin
with oral azithromycin) and a 99.5% rate of success in the other (oral
gemifloxacin with oral azithromycin). Both solutions cured infections in
the throat and rectum 100% of the time.
"This is a very
encouraging development in a discouraging field with very few new
options in the pipeline," says Robert Kirkcaldy, the study's leading
specialist and a medical epidemiologist at the CDC's division of STD
prevention. "We are moving in the right direction with encouraging
Previously, doctors had only one form of treatment for
gonorrhea, the oral antibiotic cefixime and injectable antibiotic
ceftriaxone. However, the antibiotics were becoming less effective as
the bacteria continued to mutate, leaving physicians with no other
option to treat the most common sexually transmitted infection in the
"It's very scary when you have only one effective regimen,"
says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and
According to the CDC, the scenario is
becoming more common because of the rapid growth of antibiotic-resistant
infections such as gonorrhea. Because of these mutations, infections
are more easily spread and more expensive and difficult to treat. Which
is why it's one of the more concerning problems for the world of health
care and the CDC, whose researchers are making it a top priority to
supply alternative treatments and long-term solutions, Kirkcaldy says.
Fauci says that while the new treatments are an exciting addition that
are just as effective as the previously used treatment and similar in
cost, they are a bit more toxic, producing mild side effects in the
majority of patients. Most side effects were gastrointestinal. For now,
Kirkcaldy says the CDC will keep the current recommended treatment in
place, listing the newer combinations as a valuable alternative if
needed, as they continue to search for other options.
"Although it's not a game-changer," Kirkcaldy says, "it does provide valuable fallback options."
possible mutations in the future as well, specialists say the new
treatments will help them find more effective solutions that aim to
prevent the infection altogether. The drug would be an improvement
beyond other prevention techniques such as abstinence, condom use or
STD testing. It may even help physicians find a way to test already
infected patients to see which treatment they are immune to and
determine the best course of action, Fauci says.
"For the future,
it means we've accomplished something," he says. "It isn't the end of
the road, but it's very gratifying to know we developed new treatment
options ... we need to stay ahead of resistant gonorrhea infections."