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California Sees an Increase in Rare, Severe Complications from Untreated Gonorrhea

Date: November 20, 2020
Number: NR20-306

SACRAMENTO – In recent months, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has received reports of a severe form of gonorrhea called disseminated gonococcal infections (DGI), which is an uncommon, but significant complication of untreated gonorrhea.

"As an infectious disease and public health physician, I am very concerned that we are seeing completely preventable complications of sexually transmitted disease (STD) infections that went undiagnosed and untreated, likely due to people not seeking care or getting routine testing during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Dr. Erica Pan, Acting State Public Health Officer. "STD risk has not gone away. There are a few groups we especially want to remind to seek STD screening. If you are a sexually active female 25 years of age or younger, if you are pregnant, if you are a man who has sex with men, or if you are living with HIV, please contact your healthcare provider to get recommended testing for STDs."

Disseminated Gonorrhea Infections occur when the sexually transmitted pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae spreads beyond the site of infection and invades the bloodstream traveling to distant sites in the body. This can lead to  joint pain and swelling from infected joints; small, painless red based skin lesions that have clear fluid or pus in them; infection in the blood; or, on rare occasions, infections of the heart valves or fluid around the brain. Most of the cases in California have presented with joint pain and infected joints. Anyone showing symptoms should immediately reach out to their health care provider.

CDPH is working with local health departments and health care providers to understand these infections, and to ensure people with STDs are tested and treated. This includes encouraging emergency department clinicians to routinely test their patients for HIV, STDs, and Hepatitis C, and encouraging people who are at risk to make use of newly available at-home STD and HIV testing technologies.

Visit STDs in California for more information.

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