As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report a staggering 1.6 million new cases of gonorrhea annually, with half of them resistant to antibiotics, efforts are being made to combat the spread of drug-resistant strains. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has launched a bold public information campaign to raise awareness.
Billboards across the country now display a striking “GONORRHEA ALERT!” in large letters, accompanied by an image of a cruise ship colliding with an iceberg. The intention is to convey the message that, much like icebergs and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the risk goes beyond what is visible on the surface, explained Mike McVicker-Weaver, an AHF regional director, in an interview with NBC News.
These billboards have emerged in 16 states and 36 cities nationwide, serving as a call to action for individuals to consider gonorrhea and engage in conversations about the infection with their partners, according to McVicker-Weaver.
This extensive advertising campaign comes in response to recent cases in Massachusetts where two individuals were diagnosed with “super gonorrhea” that proved resistant to nearly all available drugs for treatment. While this strain had previously been identified in Asia and Europe, its appearance in the United States this year raises concerns.
Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of public health at the University of Southern California, explained to CNN that this strain’s global circulation meant it was only a matter of time before it reached the US. He emphasized that gonorrhea is becoming increasingly resistant and challenging to treat, with no new antibiotics available.
Previously, several antibiotics, such as penicillin, ciprofloxacin (Cipro), and fluoroquinolone drugs, were effective against gonorrhea. However, over time, the bacteria causing the infection, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, has developed resistance to these and other drugs.
Currently, there is only one remaining treatment option—an injection of ceftriaxone—to combat “super gonorrhea,” but uncertainty looms regarding how long this drug will remain effective. Klausner stressed the need for a different treatment strategy, stating that new antibiotics to address gonorrhea have been absent for years.
Gonorrhea spreads through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and it is possible for infected individuals to exhibit no symptoms. Symptoms, when present, can include a burning sensation during urination, abdominal pain, abnormal discharge, and itching or bleeding from the vagina, anus, or penis.
Healthcare professionals can diagnose gonorrhea through urine tests or swabs of the affected area, and they may also conduct simultaneous tests for other STIs.
In addition to the rise in drug-resistant gonorrhea, public health experts are increasingly concerned about other superbugs, such as Candida auris, a potentially deadly and drug-resistant fungus spreading rapidly in hospitals across the US. Researchers have also found evidence of superbug transmission between humans and their pets, including diseases like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and vancomycin-resistant enterococci.
The fight against drug-resistant infections is a growing public health priority, demanding greater awareness, prevention measures, and research to develop effective treatment alternatives.