Effect of spectinomycin use on the prevalence of spectinomycin-resistant and of penicillinase-producing Neisseria gonorrhoeae

N Engl J Med. 1987 Jul 30;317(5):272-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198707303170504.


Because of the high prevalence of penicillinase-producing Neisseria gonorrhoeae in the Republic of Korea, spectinomycin has been used there in the primary treatment of gonococcal infections in U.S. military personnel since 1981, but there have been increasingly frequent reports of treatment failures with spectinomycin. We conducted a clinical study to determine the efficacy of spectinomycin treatment in 124 U.S. servicemen in the Republic of Korea who had urethral gonococcal infections. Ninety-seven patients were treated with spectinomycin alone and evaluated in a follow-up visit. In eight patients (8.2 percent), this treatment was unsuccessful. Antibiotic-sensitivity testing on isolates from seven of the patients with treatment failure demonstrated that six isolates were highly resistant to spectinomycin (minimal inhibitory concentration, greater than or equal to 100 micrograms per milliliter). None of the spectinomycin-resistant strains had become resistant to penicillin, either through the production of penicillinase or through a chromosomal mutation. Although the mechanism of spectinomycin resistance appears to be a chromosomal mutation, these isolates were generally sensitive to other antibiotics. The prevalence of resistance to spectinomycin resulted in the substitution of ceftriaxone for the primary treatment of gonorrhea acquired by U.S. military personnel in the Republic of Korea. We believe that the rapid emergence of spectinomycin resistance in this population mandates a cautious approach to widescale use of the drug and indicates a need to broaden current surveillance programs.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Gonorrhea / drug therapy
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / drug effects*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / enzymology
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / isolation & purification
  • Penicillinase / biosynthesis*
  • Serotyping
  • Spectinomycin / pharmacology
  • Spectinomycin / therapeutic use*


  • Spectinomycin
  • Penicillinase