There’s been a lot of terrible news about sexually transmitted diseases and the gay male community lately. We know that sometimes it can feel like it is all “doom and gloom,” but a new study has come out that might make you feel a tiny bit better about the depressing news of gonorrhea. But first, we have to give you some more bad news. Sorry.

The rates of gonorrhea infection among men who have sex with men have been on a constant rise over the last decade. These studies are troubling as the traditional methods for treating this disease have failed. Recently, a joint investigation by the CDC and the Hawaii State Department of Public Health found that seven individuals (six males, one female) in Honolulu in April and May of 2016 showed resistance to Azithromycin at much higher levels than typically seen in the United States. Isolates from five of these individuals also showed reduced susceptibility to Ceftriaxone. Both are medications that are the most recommended treatments for gonorrhea.

The CDC currently recommends dual therapy with a single shot of Ceftriaxone and an oral dose of Azithromycin to treat gonorrhea.

The Hawaii cluster is concerning, as all eight isolates demonstrated high levels of Azithromycin resistance, resistance to penicillin, tetracycline, and Ciprofloxacin. Five of the eight demonstrated reduced susceptibility to Ceftriaxone by agar dilution testing. The isolates were genetically related,” said Alan Katz, MD, MPH, from the Hawaii State Department of Health’s Diamond Head STD Clinic.

Dr. Mermin, who worked on the study, noted that the Hawaii cluster is “even more concerning than data CDC published earlier this year that showed evidence of emerging Azithromycin resistance across the nation, but those cases were susceptible to Ceftriaxone.”

These are the latest signs that the effectiveness of today’s treatments may soon be in jeopardy.

But here is some fantastic news about gonorrhea: You probably have an excellent treatment right inside your medicine cabinet!

Listerine mouthwash, at dilutions of up to 1:4 for 1 min, significantly reduced total N. gonorrhoeae counts. A total of 196 men who have sex with men were recruited; 58 (30%) were culture positive before using the solution. After gargling the allocated solution, men in the Listerine group were significantly less likely to be culture positive on the pharyngeal surface (52%) compared with men in the saline group (84%) (p=0.013).

This data suggests that Listerine significantly reduces the amount of N. gonorrhoeae on the pharyngeal surface.

But, we want to put in a few words of caution from the people over at Jezebel:

  1. Both parts of this small study lend credence to Listerine’s original nineteenth-century claim that their product could clean floors and cure the clap. But a few questions linger. For one, the study only looked at cultures taken five minutes after gargling. Do the benefits last long term, or is the effect short-term? We absolutely can’t say that it “cures” or “treats” gonorrhea because all we know is what happens right after you use it. Lead author Eric Chow, a senior research fellow at the Melbourne Sexual Health Center, stressed to Jezebel that they did not use the word cure in their article because the idea “is not supported by any scientific evidence.” More detailed lab work and studies over more extended periods are needed before you can toss around a word like that.
  2. This study leaves us far from recommending mouthwash as a standard part of sexual health. If swishing around some Listerine after oral sex makes you feel better, it probably won’t hurt, but it will not cure or treat an existing infection—that’s what antibiotics are for. Chow emphasizes that, while the findings are promising, at this point, “we do not recommend it at any site and certainly not anywhere other than the throat.” So please don’t douche with Listerine or dip your penis in it. This is most definitely not good for your genitals and will not be an effective way of preventing the spread of infection.

    With daily use it may increase gonococcal clearance and have important implications for prevention strategies but Listerine is not a cure for the clap.

So, the jury may still be out about the long term effects of Listerine on gonorrhea but using it won’t harm you, and it will give you fresh breath.

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