Background: Gonorrhea treatment has been complicated by antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Gonococcal fluoroquinolone resistance emerged more rapidly among men who have sex with men (MSM) than men who have sex exclusively with women (MSW).
Objective: To determine whether N. gonorrhoeae urethral isolates from MSM were more likely than isolates from MSW to exhibit resistance to or elevated minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) of antimicrobials used to treat gonorrhea.
Design: 6 years of surveillance data from the Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project.
Setting: Publicly funded sexually transmitted disease clinics in 30 U.S. cities.
Patients: Men with a total of 34 600 episodes of symptomatic urethral gonorrhea.
Measurements: Percentage of isolates exhibiting resistance or elevated MICs and adjusted odds ratios for resistance or elevated MICs among isolates from MSM compared with isolates from MSW.
Results: In all U.S. regions except the West, isolates from MSM were significantly more likely to exhibit elevated MICs of ceftriaxone and azithromycin than isolates from MSW (P < 0.050). Isolates from MSM had a high prevalence of resistance to ciprofloxacin, penicillin, and tetracycline and were significantly more likely to exhibit antimicrobial resistance than isolates from MSW (P < 0.001).
Limitations: Sentinel surveillance may not be representative of all patients with gonorrhea. HIV status, travel history, and antimicrobial use data were missing for some patients.
Conclusion: Men who have sex with men are vulnerable to the emerging threat of antimicrobial-resistant N. gonorrhoeae. Because antimicrobial susceptibility testing is not routinely done in clinical practice, clinicians should monitor for treatment failures among MSM diagnosed with gonorrhea. Strengthened prevention strategies for MSM and new antimicrobial treatment options are needed.
Primary Funding Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.