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Are We Doing Too Little Too Late? The Growing Number of Gonorrhea Cases and Antibiotic Resistance

Sep 24, 2015
Gonorrhea is here, more people are getting it, and that is bad news. Last year, the number of gonorrhea cases reported in Ontario hit its highest point in a decade.

ColinGonorrhea is here, more people are getting it, and that is bad news.

Last year, the number of gonorrhea cases reported in Ontario hit its highest point in a decade. Simcoe and Muskoka had 115 reported cases in 2014, a 58% increase from the 73 reported cases in 2013 and a 72% increase from the 67 reported cases in 2012.

Health officials and scientists alike view the trend with alarm. Beyond the numbers, they know that gonorrhea is getting harder and harder to treat because it is becoming resistant to all but a handful of antibiotics.

The simplest solution is to avoid contracting or spreading gonorrhea in the first place. In a world of buyer beware, some sexually active people continue to choose condomless sex instead of having The Conversation. We need to start saying things like “I really care about you. I have been tested for STIs, have you?” or “Sorry, I always use a condom.” Some people don’t know that gonorrhea can be spread through oral sex, so if you are engaging in oral sex it is important to use a condom or barrier.

You can have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) like gonorrhea and not know it because you might not have any symptoms (up to 50%) – or, if you have symptoms, you might not recognize them. Unless you get tested, you may never know you are infected. We encourage testing with every new sexual partner.

Symptoms may include burning or pain during urination, and discharge. To ensure that the antibiotic treatments remain effective into the future, health care professionals and patients need to work together. At present, the recommended and best treatment for gonorrhea includes two different antibiotics at the same time: one by injection and the other consists of 4 pills. 

After treatment with antibiotics, it is important to wait a full seven days before resuming condomless sex.

If it is not treated properly, gonorrhea can lead to secondary diseases or sterility, and an increased risk of HIV. Patients and health care professionals need to fight gonorrhea together by doing their part to test, treat and prevent gonorrhea transmission. So far, the first-line treatment has been working. But it may not last, and we are running out of options.

Dr. Colin Lee is an Associate Medical Officer of Health with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit

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