News Release

New strain of extensively drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae detected in Austria

Possible treatment failure to recommended first-line gonorrhoea therapy

Peer-Reviewed Publication

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

Phylogeny of identified strain

image: Phylogeny of the most closely related Neisseria gonorrhoeae genome sequences from a recent study [12], Asia, 2011–2018 to the extensively drug-resistant N. gonorrhoeae strain (AT159) causing a possible gonorrhoea treatment failure, Austriaa, April 2022 (n = 71 genome sequences) view more 

Credit: Eurosurveillance

Given that there is no vaccine available against gonorrhoea, diagnosing this sexually transmitted infection early, treating it effectively and notifying sexual partners are cornerstones of controlling disease spread. However, Neisseria gonorrhoeae has developed resistance to all classes of antimicrobials since the beginning of treatment with them in the 1930s.

As first-line treatment approach, current guidelines recommend either monotherapy with ceftriaxone or a combination of it with azithromycin but resistance or decreased susceptibility to both has been reported worldwide in recent years.

In their rapid communication, Pleininger et al. [1] describe the case of an extensively drug-resistant (XDR) Neisseria gonorrhoeae strain recently identified that shows high-level resistance to azithromycin and resistance to ceftriaxone, cefixime, cefotaxime, ciprofloxacin and tetracycline.

The strain was detected after a heterosexual male patient in Austria presented with symptoms in April 2022 following condomless sex with a female sex worker in Cambodia. The authors note a possible gonorrhoea treatment failure with ceftriaxone and azithromycin as no post-treatment gonococcal isolates were available. Following the initial treatment course, the test of cure was negative, but a polymerase chain reaction test from the urethral swab culture sample was positive for Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

XDR gonorrhoea challenges current treatment options and recommendations
According to Pleininger at al., the molecular investigation of the isolate establishes the detected strain in Austria as the second global gonococcal strain with ceftriaxone resistance combined with high-level azithromycin resistance and relatively close relationship with the “WHO Q” reference strain. The “WHO Q” strain has been associated with three cases of gonorrhoea notified in the United Kingdom and Australia in 2018 with reported links to South East Asia.

Multidrug- and extensively drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae strains are a global public health concern given the limited remaining treatment options. Establishment of strains as described by Pleininger et al. with sustained transmission might make many gonorrhoea cases untreatable.

To address this, the authors conclude that “enhanced antimicrobial resistance surveillance (ideally including test of cure and whole-genome sequencing), nationally and internationally, particularly in Asia where many ceftriaxone-resistant strains appear to have emerged, is of highest importance. Ultimately, novel antimicrobials for effective treatment of gonorrhoea and/or a sufficiently effective gonococcal vaccine will be crucial”.


References/notes to editors:
[1] Pleininger Sonja, Indra Alexander, Golparian Daniel, Heger Florian, Schindler Stefanie, Jacobsson Susanne, Heidler Stefan, Unemo Magnus. Extensively drug-resistant (XDR) Neisseria gonorrhoeae causing possible gonorrhoea treatment failure with ceftriaxone plus azithromycin in Austria, April 2022. Euro Surveill. 2022;27(24):pii=2200455. Available from:

[2] Epidemiological data on STI are available for 30 European Union (EU)/European Economic Area (EEA) countries that participate in the European STI Surveillance Network and report through the European Surveillance System (TESSy). However, information is scarce from the non-EU/EEA countries of the WHO European Region.

[3] Gonorrhoea, caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria, is the second most notified sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the EU/EEA after chlamydia. Urethral infections in men and uro-genital infections in women are the main presenting feature, but a broad spectrum of clinical presentations can occur, including systemic dissemination with fever and skin and joint involvement. Throat and ano-rectal infections also occur.

Urethral symptoms and vaginal discharge may appear after a short incubation (2–7 days following exposure), but in women cervicitis may remain without symptoms. Once a diagnosis is made, uncomplicated gonorrhoea is usually cured by a single dose of a suitable antibiotic. Partner notification and treatment is essential to curtail transmission. See:

Without adequate treatment, STIs may have serious long-term health consequences, such as reproductive health complications and increased risk of acquiring HIV or cancers. STI surveillance is essential for the development of STI programmes, advocacy and management of cases.
Data on gonorrhoea for the countries of the European Union and European Economic Area is available online:

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