HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A cluster of gonorrhea cases in Hawaii are the first to be identified in the United States as resistant to the strongest medications available for the sexually transmitted disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.
CDC officials said the cluster of seven cases, identified in Honolulu from April to May, could mean the treatment for gonorrhea is losing its effectiveness.
"Our last line of defense against gonorrhea is weakening," said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, in a news release. "If resistance continues to increase and spread, current treatment will ultimately fail and 800,000 Americans a year will be at risk for untreatable gonorrhea."
The CDC announced the findings at the 2016 STD Prevention Conference in Atlanta, but also had some good news: An experimental oral antibiotic currently being tested in a clinical study could offer a new option for gonorrhea treatment.
Over the years, gonorrhea has developed resistance to nearly every class of antibiotics used to treat it. That's why the CDC has been closely monitoring gonorrhea treatments to catch early warning signs of resistance.
The current CDC-recommended treatment for gonorrhea: A single shot of ceftriaxone and an oral dose of azithromycin.
Lab tests of the seven Hawaii cases showed resistance to azithromycin at "dramatically higher levels than typically seen" in the United States.
Additionally, five of the individuals showed susceptibility to ceftriaxone.
The CDC said all of the patients were treated successfully, and no further cases have been identified.
Still, officials said, there is considerable cause for concern.
"Hawaii is on the front line for antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea," said Dr. Alan Katz, a professor of public health at the University of Hawaii and a medical consultant at the state's Diamond Head STD clinic.
"We've been one of the first states to see declining effectiveness of each drug over the years. That's made us extremely vigilant, so we were able to catch this cluster early and treat everyone found who was linked to the cluster. But the future risk of gonorrhea becoming resistant to both of the recommended therapy medications in the United States is troubling."