Surveillance of gonococcal antimicrobial susceptibility resulting in early detection of emerging resistance

J Antimicrob Chemother. 2012 Jun;67(6):1422-6. doi: 10.1093/jac/dks036. Epub 2012 Feb 14.


Objectives: To undertake laboratory and clinical surveillance of gonococcal antimicrobial susceptibility to various therapeutic agents in Hong Kong, so as to monitor for emerging resistance and to inform on appropriate choice of empirical therapy.

Methods: Trends in susceptibility of gonococci to ceftriaxone, spectinomycin, ceftibuten and azithromycin were monitored over time. Isolates with reduced susceptibility to oral extended-spectrum cephalosporins were further characterized by detection of the mosaic penA gene and typing by Neisseria gonorrhoeae multi-antigen sequence typing (NG-MAST). Correlation with clinical and epidemiological findings was undertaken on isolates positive for the mosaic penA gene.

Results: Trends in susceptibility of gonococci to ceftriaxone, spectinomycin and ceftibuten remained stable between 2005 and 2010. In 2010, 30.3% of tested strains were not susceptible to azithromycin. The percentage of gonococcal strains harbouring the mosaic penA gene increased from 1.0% during April to December 2010 to 8.2% during January to September 2011 (P < 0.0001). Review of available clinical records showed that, out of 35 patients infected by strains positive for the mosaic penA gene, 30 had laboratory-documented treatment failure.

Conclusions: This study showed that ceftriaxone and spectinomycin remained effective against gonorrhoea in Hong Kong. There was an alarming increase in strains with reduced susceptibility to oral extended-spectrum cephalosporins associated with clinical treatment failure. One-third of gonococcal isolates were non-susceptible to azithromycin. The need to switch to agents other than oral extended-spectrum cephalosporins for empirical treatment is imminent. Continued surveillance with strain characterization is essential to monitor the effectiveness of currently recommended therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial*
  • Female
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology*
  • Hong Kong
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Molecular Typing
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / drug effects*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / isolation & purification
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Spectinomycin / pharmacology*
  • beta-Lactams / pharmacology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • beta-Lactams
  • Spectinomycin