How the Media Scared the Bejeezus Out of Everyone With an Overhyped ‘Sex Superbug’

Despite recent reports claiming otherwise, a strain of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is not yet a reality for Americans. Let's keep it that way.

As NBC News reports, drug-resistant gonorrhea, HO41—the so-called sex superbug “confirmed” to have been found in Hawaii, and said to have traveled to California and Norway—is not the killer that the press made it out to be; in fact, HO41 has not made it beyond Japan, public officials say. Phew.

So how did the panic begin? It seems the media was quick to exploit the superbug, with the Associated Press, CNBC and the Daily Mail all reporting on the rare strain of gonorrhea and quoting a neuropathic doctor who suggested the new gonorrhea could be “a lot worse than AIDS in the short run because the bacteria is more aggressive and will affect people more quickly.” A lot worse than AIDS?! Yeah, that’s quite the juicy (read: terrifying) soundbite.

Luckily, it was not to be. As NBC News confirms, the Hawaii cases, first discovered in May 2011, were actually H11S8, a different strain, resistant to a different drug; HO41 hasn’t been detected anywhere since 2009 in Japan, where it was found in a Japanese sex worker. Say it with me: phew.

Still, public health experts ware taking the opportunity to emphasize the threat of untreated gonorrhea, the germ is “wily and easily mutable,” says the NBC report, and lately there have been “signs that the bug is starting to outsmart [cephalosporins, the current treatment for gonorrhea], too.” Now there’s a new recommended treatment and the National Coalition of STD Directors, led by William Smith, has asked Congress for $54 million to bolster the U.S. public health infrastructure that monitors, diagnoses and treats gonorrhea.

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