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The federal government estimates that 600,000 cases of gonorrhea are diagnosed in the U.S. each year; roughly half are not reported.

In the District, some 10,000 gonorrhea cases, including 4,000 among teens, have been reported, but, based on clinic information and outreach efforts, “we are not aware of any cases” that have not been cured, said Michael Kharfen, bureau chief for communications and community outreach in the District of Columbia Department of Health.

“We’re looking forward very much” to the new CDC guidelines on antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, Mr. Kharfen said Tuesday. “We’re obviously concerned because we’ve been seeing over the years a shrinking number of effective treatments.”

Seeking new cures

Meanwhile, there is an increasingly urgent need to find an entirely new class of drugs to defeat gonorrhea, as previously used antibiotics are ineffective and cannot be reintroduced, researchers told the CDC webinar.

It takes drug manufacturers at least nine years and up to 15 years to get a licensed product. Speculative research and development costs can range from $4 billion up to $12 billion, Carolyn Deal, chief of the STD branch of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told the CDC webinar.

Gonorrhea, known historically by such terms as “the clap,” “drip” or “GC,” often goes unreported because it is asymptomatic, especially in women, and particularly if the infection is lodged in the oral cavity or rectum, STD researchers said. When there are symptoms, these usually include painful urination, discharge and itching.

Left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to scarring of reproductive tissues, which can cause infertility. It ulcerates or opens sores on the skin, raising the risk for acquiring HIV and other STDs. Pregnant women infected with gonorrhea are at risk for miscarriage, premature birth and other complications; infected mothers can transmit the disease to their babies, causing eye infections and other problems.

The best ways to avoid gonorrhea are to abstain from sex or stay in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner and use condoms consistently and correctly, Dr. Robert Kirkcaldy, a medical epidemiologist at the STD division of the CDC, told the webinar. Anyone who acquires gonorrhea, he said, should let the health care provider know if the infection is not resolved and notify all recent sex partners so they can be treated too.

With more than 600,000 new infections each year in the United States, gonorrhea ranks as the second most commonly reported bacterial STD after chlamydia. After infection rates fell steadily from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, infection rates essentially have held steady since then as the more treatment-resistant strains appeared. According to the CDC, the highest reported rates of infection in the U.S. population are among sexually active teenagers, young adults and blacks.