Sex Superbug Bad, But Not Worse Than AIDS, Experts Say

Sex superbug fears in the United States are still overblown, experts warn, as the rare strain of gonorrhea has yet to reach American shores and isn’t quite as bad as it’s being billed.

Several media outlets reported earlier this week that the sex superbug showed up in Hawaii, raising alarm nationwide. But now experts say the case in Hawaii wasn’t the feared drug-resistant gonorrhea but instead another strain.

“The sky is not falling — yet,” said Dr. Kimberly Workowski, a professor of infectious disease at Emory University in Atlanta.

Had the Hawaii case actually been the sex superbug, it would have been the first domestic sign of a version of gonorrhea that is resistant to ceftriaxone, an antibiotic considered the last-resort treatment for the sexually transmitted infection.

The Associated Press later withdrew its article about the sex superbug, but the false report still heightened fears. The form of gonorrhea was first found in a Japanese sex worker in 2009 and has spread to a few other cases since then.

In news articles in past days the sex superbug has been referred to as a “new AIDS virus” or even “worse than AIDS.” Dr. Kent Sepkowitz disagrees, saying the description comes from a media bent on building a story.

“I have been practicing infectious disease since Bush 41 was president, and I have never seen a person die of gonorrhea,” he wrote for The Daily Beast. “Yes, it is an extremely unpleasant and tragic infection that has led to infertility for thousands, perhaps millions of women, and yes, it occasionally though very rarely spills into the blood and can cause infection of the heart valve. But death is almost never on its menu.”

While the Hawaii case turned out to be something else, experts warn that the sex superbug is likely on its way to the United States very soon.

“We think that that could be just a matter of a year or two,” said William Smith, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors.

The good news about the sex superbug is that it’s entirely preventable, experts say. They recommend diligent condom use.