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Super Gonorrhea is a Thing Now, and It's As Bad As It Sounds

Super Gonorrhea is a Thing Now, and It's As Bad As It Sounds

Last Updated: April 01, 2021

You’ve probably heard of gonorrhea – a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae.  What you probably don’t know is that we’ve been waging a war against gonorrhea for a very long time and that gonorrhea has powered up recently, becoming SUPER GONORRHEA.

Gonorrhea infection has been around since medieval times. It’s flat-out unpleasant. Infections can occur on a person’s genitals, anus, throat, or eyes.

Here’s a quick rundown of just some of the symptoms of gonorrhea (keep in mind, some people with gonorrhea don’t have any symptoms but can still pass the infection to others.) You might notice a pattern…

  • Painful or itchy sensation to genitals, with abnormal discharge.
  • Pain or trouble with urinating. 
  • Painful and swollen testicles.
  • Pain during sex.
  • …did we say pain?


If gonorrhea is left untreated, it can cause serious health problems, such as chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and an increased risk of HIV.

You can start to imagine why people in the 1800s and early 1900s tried to treat gonorrhea with mercury, silver nitrate, and even arsenic (not that it was successful). Desperate times call for desperate measures?

Fortunately, gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics and doesn’t cause any health problems if treated right away. All seemed well in our fight against gonorrhea up until about the 1980s…

Enter Super Gonorrhea

By the 1980s, most gonorrhea bacteria evolved to become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the infection. When bacteria become resistant to an antibiotic, it means the bacteria have changed, and that particular antibiotic can no longer be used to cure the infection for that person.  In response, we started using a different antibiotic to counter-act the new strain of bacteria. Fast forward to today, and we now have strains of gonorrhea that are resistant to almost all antibiotics. This is known as super gonorrhea.

Super gonorrhea is much more difficult to treat because the usual antibiotics don’t help.  A case of super gonorrhea requires very strong antibiotics that are usually reserved for severe, life threatening infections. We really don’t want bacteria to become resistant to that too, though.

Worried? There’s actually a lot you can do to help. Here’s how you can take action to help protect yourself and others.

  1. Get tested! You can get tested for gonorrhea if you have symptoms, or if a sexual partner has tested positive for gonorrhea, or if you are doing routine screening for STIs. Also, plan to get tested if you are pregnant, going to have an IUD inserted, a surgical abortion, or a gynecological procedure. It is important to be tested regularly for STIs if you have new sexual partners or if you are in an open relationship.
  2. Talk with your partners about safer sex. Condoms are great if they work for you as the correct use of condoms reduces your chances of getting or passing gonorrhea, other STIs, and HIV.
  3. For any infection, if you are given prescription antibiotics, follow the instructions carefully for taking the medication.  
  4. There is no vaccine to protect against gonorrhea, but keeping all your vaccines up to date keeps you healthy. There are vaccines for other STIs, such as Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B.  Ask your doctor or nurse about your vaccine history if you have any questions.  


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This article/quiz was developed in partnership with the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Community Antimicrobial Stewardship Team.