Treatment efficacy for pharyngeal Neisseria gonorrhoeae: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

J Antimicrob Chemother. 2020 Nov 1;75(11):3109-3119. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkaa300.


Background: Rising gonorrhoea rates require highly effective treatments to reduce transmission and prevent development of antimicrobial resistance. Currently the most effective treatments for pharyngeal gonorrhoea remain unclear. This review aimed to estimate treatment efficacy for pharyngeal gonorrhoea.

Methods: Online bibliographic databases were searched for the period 1 January 2000 to 17 September 2019 for treatments of gonorrhoea. All randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with data on pharyngeal gonorrhoea among participants aged 15 years or above, published in English, were included. Meta-analyses (random effects) were used to estimate the treatment efficacy, defined as microbiological cure, among currently recommended monotherapies and dual therapies, previously recommended but no longer used regimens and emerging drugs under evaluation. Side effects were also summarized. The study protocol was registered on PROSPERO (CRD42020149278).

Results: There were nine studies that included 452 participants studying 19 treatment regimens. The overall treatment efficacy for pharyngeal gonorrhoea was 98.1% (95% CI: 93.8%-100%; I2 = 57.3%; P < 0.01). Efficacy was similar for single (97.1%; 95% CI: 90.8%-100.0%; I2 = 15.6%; P = 0.29) and dual therapies (98.0%; 95% CI: 91.4%-100%; I2 = 79.1%; P < 0.01). Regimens containing azithromycin 2 g or ceftriaxone were similarly efficacious. The summary efficacy estimate for emerging drugs was 88.8% (95% CI: 76.9%-97.5%; I2 = 11.2%; P = 0.34). Small sample sizes in each trial was a major limitation.

Conclusions: Regimens containing ceftriaxone or azithromycin 2 g, alone or as part of dual therapies are the most efficacious for pharyngeal gonorrhoea. Further pharyngeal-specific RCTs with adequate sample sizes are needed.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Azithromycin
  • Ceftriaxone
  • Gonorrhea* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Ceftriaxone
  • Azithromycin