As if you needed another reason to practice safe sex, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just updated their guidelines for the treatment of gonorrhea, an sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Gonorrhea is one of the most common STIs in the United States and we see it fairly regularly here at the Student Health Center.
Gonorrhea is a really smart bug – it has become resistant to every medication we’ve ever used to treat it so we’ve had to keep coming up with new options. Until now, we’ve been able to use oral antibiotic (one you take by mouth) to treat it, but sure enough, recent trends have shown that our latest option, Cefixime (Suprax), is starting to become less effective.
So now we’re literally down to our last shot – an injectable antibiotic called Ceftriaxone (Rocephin). According to the new guidelines, if you get gonorrhea you need to get a single shot of Ceftriaxone PLUS an oral antibiotic, either azithromycin (Zithromax) or doxycycline.
We can test and treat you for gonorrhea (along with other STI’s) at the Student Health Center, so if you are having any symptoms like burning when you pee, lower abdominal or pelvic pain, or a discharge from your penis or vagina, come in and see us ASAP.
If gonorrhea goes untreated, it can cause serious health problems. In women, it can lead to chronic pelvic pain, life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, and even infertility. In men, it can cause epididymitis, a painful condition that may lead to infertility. Infection also increases the risk of contracting and transmitting HIV.
Although some people have symptoms, most people do not so it is absolutely critical for you to protect yourself from gonorrhea. If you’ve never had sex, then you’re in good shape. If you are sexually active, there are some important things you should do to lower your risk of infection.
· limit the number of people you have sex
· always and correctly use a condom
· get screening lab tests to check for STIs once a year (remember, they often don’t have symptoms)
But this (really very serious) public and potentially personal health issue isn’t just about sexual behavior, it’s about medication behavior. The more we use antibiotics for any reason, the more opportunities bacteria have to adapt and become resistant to them. So then we have to switch to another antibiotic, then another, then another, until – like we’re facing now with gonorrhea – we run out of options.
So believe your health care provider when she tells you that you really don’t need an antibiotic for your cold or sore throat – she really does have your best interests at heart. And if she does prescribe you an antibiotic, make sure you take it as prescribed and until it’s gone. Leftover pizza can be a great thing; leftover antibiotics never are.
John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University