Super gonorrhea is an unusually strong case of the sexually transmitted infection (STI) gonorrhea. It’s referred to as a “superbug” because it is resistant to the antibiotics healthcare providers usually use to treat gonorrhea.
How Is Super Gonorrhea Different From Standard Gonorrhea?
Super gonorrhea is a relatively recent superbug, as it first came to the healthcare community’s attention about 30 years ago. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), super gonorrhea cases have been reported in Britain, France, Japan, Spain, and the United States.
Although both the superbug and the standard version of the infection have similar symptoms, super gonorrhea doesn’t go away after taking the typical combination of antibiotics. Even taking additional doses of the antibiotics that usually cure gonorrhea won’t affect this superbug.
Is Super Gonorrhea Becoming More Common?
Super gonorrhea is still rare, but gonorrhea is the world’s second most frequently diagnosed bacterial STI. Although instances of gonorrhea hit a historic low in 2009, reported cases of this STI have increased nearly 83% over the past decade.
Public health officials are concerned that more cases of gonorrhea could resist standard treatments in the future, as antibiotic resistance grows. This pattern could make the superbug more common and more difficult to treat.
What Causes Super Gonorrhea?
The key causes of the superbug strain of gonorrhea include:
- Genetic mutations within the gonorrhea bacteria, which are partially due to the general public’s overuse of antimicrobial substances.
- Additional genital infections, especially among men who have sex with men.
How Do You Treat Super Gonorrhea?
Over time, standard treatments for gonorrhea have evolved in response to antibiotic resistance. Thirty years ago, a combination of ciprofloxacin, fluoroquinolone, ceftriaxone, and cefixime was the standard treatment for this STI. However, healthcare providers began to report cases of ciprofloxacin resistance 20 years ago, and in 2006, 14% of gonorrhea cases were ciprofloxacin-resistant. As a result, public health officials began recommending a dual therapy treatment that includes a cephalosporin ceftriaxone injection and an oral dose of azithromycin.
Today, several initiatives are underway to treat and combat super gonorrhea:
- Researchers are hard at work developing new medications to treat antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea.
- Public health officials rely on the STD Surveillance Network (SSuN) to make sure gonorrhea patients receive the CDC’s recommended treatment, which can help prevent antibiotic resistance.
- The federal government has a National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (CARB) and funds the Antibiotic Resistance Laboratory Network (ARLN) that can respond to emerging threats.
- The Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project (GISP) collects gonorrhea specimens from patients every month to test for antibiotic resistance and to research trends.
- The national Gonorrhea Rapid Detection and Response initiative provides resources to local and state health departments so they can respond to the superbug efficiently.
- The Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership helps develop, test, and register gonorrhea treatments.
What Happens if You Don’t Treat Super Gonorrhea Effectively?
When gonorrhea resists standard antibiotic treatments, it’s difficult to treat the infection effectively. Over time, additional complications can develop. Some of the biggest areas of concern include:
- Chronic abdominal pain, especially for women.
- Ectopic pregnancies, which can lead to death.
- Serious eye infections in babies born to infected mothers.
- Increased instances of HIV transmission.
- Rapid spread of super gonorrhea.
What Are the Symptoms of Super Gonorrhea?
The symptoms of super gonorrhea are the same as the standard strain of the STI. Some of the most common symptoms for men include:
- Discharge from the tip of the penis.
- Pain and swelling in a single testicle.
For women, common symptoms of gonorrhea include:
- Pain during sex.
- Abdominal pain.
- Unusual vaginal bleeding.
- Vaginal discharge.
Both men and women can experience these additional symptoms:
- Pain during urination.
- Anal itching, discharge, and bleeding.
- Eye pain, discharge, and sensitivity to light.
- Throat pain and swollen lymph nodes.
- Joint pain and swelling.
How Do You Know if You Have Super Gonorrhea?
The first step in diagnosing gonorrhea is testing. If you think you might have had vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected person and you notice some of the common symptoms of gonorrhea, contact your Nurx™ medical provider to get tested. Our STI test kits cover gonorrhea and other STIs, such as chlamydia, syphilis, hepatitis C, and HIV. It’s also possible for gonorrhea to have no symptoms, so you should be tested once a year, or more often if you have new partners.
Our medical team will ask you to answer a few simple questions about your health history and sexual activity. Once we determine you’re a good candidate for STI testing, our accredited partner lab will send you a test kit in a discreet package.
When you receive the test kit, follow the included instructions to complete your STI test in the comfort of your home. The Full Control Kit requires a urine sample, a rectal swab, a throat swab, and a blood sample. Repackage the kit, add the included shipping label, and send the completed kit to our partner lab for processing. If you have questions, you can message our medical team at any time.
Once your test kit has been processed, our medical team will connect with you within seven business days. We’ll talk to you about your results and recommend the next steps to take.
How Much Does it Cost to Get Tested for Gonorrhea?
When you request STI testing via Nurx, the pricing is simple and straightforward. Here’s what you can expect to pay:
- With Insurance: You’ll pay set fees for the test kit and medical consultation. You’ll also get unlimited messaging with our medical team. Our partner lab will bill your provider for the cost of the STI testing. If you are responsible for paying a copayment or a deductible, your provider may bill you for these costs directly.
- Without Insurance: You’ll pay set fees for the Healthy Woman Kit, the Full Control Kit, or the Basics Covered Kit, along with a small fee for the medical consultation. You can also message our medical team an unlimited number of times.
Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea Basic Information, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 2019
Gonorrhea, Mayo Clinic, July 2019
What’s ‘Super’ about Super Gonorrhea?: A Q&A with WHO’s Dr. Teodora Wi, World Health Organization