STD Prevention Resources

Increased Reports of Disseminated Gonococcal Infection (DGI)

In recent months, CDC has received increasing reports of disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI), an uncommon, but severe, complication of untreated gonorrhea. DGI is likely underdiagnosed and underreported, and we do not have a good understanding of the risk factors associated with cases of DGI.

DGI occurs when the sexually transmitted pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae invades the bloodstream and spreads to distant sites in the body. Infection leads to clinical manifestations like septic arthritis, polyarthralgia, tenosynovitis, petechial/pustular skin lesions, bacteremia, or, on rare occasions, endocarditis or meningitis. Cultures from disseminated sites of infection are often negative, and mucosal sites of infection (e.g. urogenital, rectal, or pharyngeal) are often asymptomatic and not tested before empiric antimicrobial treatment is started, despite having a higher diagnostic yield. As a result, DGI is usually a clinical diagnosis without microbiologic confirmation, which likely contributes to underdiagnosis and delays in treatment and reporting.

If there is clinical suspicion for DGI, nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) and culture specimens from urogenital and extragenital mucosal site(s), as applicable, should be collected and processed, in addition to culture specimens from disseminated sites of infection (e.g., skin, synovial fluid, blood, or cerebrospinal fluid [CSF]). All Ngonorrhoeae isolates in DGI cases should be tested for antimicrobial susceptibility, which requires culture.

Management of DGI cases should be guided by the CDC STD Treatment Guidelines. Hospitalization and consultation with an infectious disease specialist are recommended for initial therapy.

What You Can Do

To better understand the magnitude of DGI in Virginia and the US, providers should take the following actions:

  • Continue to report confirmed DGI cases to CDC as gonorrhea via routine case notification mechanisms; if there are positive laboratory results from multiple anatomic sites, prioritize the sterile site (i.e., blood, CSF, or other aspirate) as the reported specimen source when reporting the case. Regardless of clinical manifestations, isolation of  gonorrhoeaefrom a sterile site (e.g., blood, synovial fluid, or CSF) would constitute confirmed DGI.
    • gonorrhoeaeisolates from sterile sites should be reported to VDH within 24 hours. Report electronically here.
    • Any laboratory confirmed or clinically suspected cases of DGI, including those empirically treated without laboratory evidence of  gonorrhoeae, should be reported to VDH within 24 hours. Report electronically here.
    • Obtain NAAT and culture specimens of genital and extragenital sites (if exposed) before initiating empiric antimicrobial treatment for patients with clinical findings suggestive of DGI.
  • Facilitate submission of any culture isolates from sterile and/or genital and extragenital sites to CDC. Instructions on isolates submission can be found here.

All N. gonorrhoeae isolates from sterile sites should be submitted to CDC for comprehensive antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST) using agar dilution and whole genome sequencing (WGS).


Erythromycin (0.5%) Ophthalmic Ointment Shortage

On March 5, 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report on a shortage of erythromycin (0.5%) ophthalmic ointment. This is a serious problem for a number of reasons. Erythromycin (0.5%) ophthalmic ointment is the only antibiotic ointment currently recommended and the only drug cleared by the FDA for the prophylaxis of gonococcal ophthalmia neonatorum.  Furthermore, gonorrhea ocular prophylaxis of newborns is mandated by law in most states and is considered standard neonatal care.  This prophylaxis was recently reaffirmed by the USPSTF.

If erythromycin ointment is not available, CDC recommends that neonates at risk for exposure to N. gonorrhoeae during delivery (especially those born to a mother at risk for gonococcal infection or with no prenatal care) be administered ceftriaxone 25–50 mg/kg IV or IM, not to exceed 125 mg in a single dose.  For more information, please see the 2015 STD Treatment Guidelines and if questions, please contact Roxanne Barrow, MD, MPH, Medical Epidemiologist, (; 404-639-8503).

Other topical medications are not recommended:

  • Tetracycline ophthalmic ointment and silver nitrate are no longer available in the United States;
  • Gentamicin was associated with chemical conjunctivitis during the last erythromycin shortage;
  • Povidone-iodine has limited data on its benefits and harms.

It is important to remember that prenatal screening is the best method for preventing gonococcal ophthalmia neonatorum among newborns!  All pregnant women < 25 years of age and women > 25 at increased risk should be screened for N. gonorrhoeae at the first prenatal care visit and again at the third trimester if risk continues during pregnancy.  Also, all females treated for gonorrhea should be retested 3 months following treatment.

Please notify health care providers, hospitals and pharmacists of the shortage of erythromycin (0.5%) ophthalmic ointment so they are aware and remind them of gonorrhea screening recommendations for pregnant females.  As we have recommended with previous shortages, please ask providers, hospitals and pharmacists to report to you any challenges in procuring product and alert CDC of any problems.

Current information regarding the availability of erythromycin (0.5%) ophthalmic ointment is available at the FDA Drug Shortage Website.

Ceftriaxone Diluents Update

Diluents for Ceftriaxone are in limited supply. Ceftriaxone is the last remaining known effective antimicrobial for the treatment of uncomplicated gonorrhea and dual therapy with azithromycin has been recommended to mitigate the emergence of Ceftriaxone resistance in the United States. The usual preparation for ceftriaxone is a powder form reconstituted with an appropriate diluent. One percent lidocaine without epinephrine is the preferred diluent to use by most STD clinical experts in an effort to minimize significant patient discomfort from the intramuscular injection. The full product insert for ceftriaxone lists other diluents for consideration. The FDA continues to work closely with manufacturers and to update their website related to the availability of all of the diluents.

Diluents currently in shortage: 1% lidocaine without epinephrinesterile water, and 0.9% sodium chloride

CDC is interested in hearing about any shortages of 1% lidocaine without epinephrine or if any provider can’t procure diluents at all and is not treating gonorrhea patients with ceftriaxone as a result.

Penicillin G benzathine (Bicillin L-A®) and Penicillin G procaine Update

There is good news related to the supply of Penicillin G benzathine (Bicillin L-A®) and Penicillin G procaine in the United States. As mentioned in earlier letters, Pfizer is the sole manufacturer of Penicillin G benzathine (Bicillin L-A®) and Penicillin G procaine in the United States.

After a protracted shortage, Penicillin G benzathine (Bicillin L-A®) is back to normal supply levels and has been moved by the FDA to a resolved shortage status.

As supply can be fragile when there is only one manufacturer and Penicillin G benzathine is the only recommended treatment for syphilis in adults in the 2015 CDC STD Treatment Guidelines we encourage the following:

  • Ask health care providers and pharmacists to continue to report to you any challenges in procuring Penicillin G benzathine product and report these challenges to CDC.  We need to keep ahead of supply problems given the unprecedented current levels of syphilis in the United States.

Note: Doxycycline is an alternative treatment for non-pregnant patients and only if a medical contraindication exists such as an IgE mediated allergy to penicillin.  Efficacy of doxycycline has not been well-studied, is considered inferior to penicillin and if utilized close follow-up of the patient is indicated.

  • If a patient is unable to afford Penicillin G benzathine (Bicillin L-A®) out of pocket or because of co-pays, please contact the local or State STD Director in your jurisdiction for assistance.
  • Encourage clinicians with questions about STD clinical management to contact the on-line National Network of STD Clinical Prevention Training Centers (NNPTC) STD Clinical Consultation Network (

After an even more protracted shortage, Penicillin G procaine is now available at normal supply levels and the FDA has recently moved it to the resolved shortage status. Penicillin G procaine is an alternative regimen for outpatient treatment of neurosyphilis and congenital syphilis.  As with Penicillin G benzathine, we encourage the following:

  • Notify health care providers and pharmacists of the availability of Penicillin G procaine so they are aware that product is available.
  • Ask them to report to you any challenges in procuring product and report these challenges to CDC.
  1. *New* Recommendations for Providing Quality Sexually Transmitted Diseases Clinical Services, 2020
  2. STD Screening Recommendations
  3. HIV Screening Guidelines
  4. 2015 STD Treatment Guidelines
    1. App – STD Treatment Guide 2015 – This easy-to-use mobile reference features a streamlined interface so that providers can quickly and easily access STD treatment and diagnostic information. The free app is available for Apple and Android devices.
    2. Wall Chart – Overview of CDC’s 2015 STD Treatment Guidelines; ideal for use in doctor offices, nurse’s stations, and other clinical settings.
    3. Pocket Guide – Small, and printed at a size that can fit in a lab coat, pocket, or desk drawer; it includes a summary of CDC’s 2015 STD Treatment Guidelines
    4. Evidence Tables – These include background documents that are the basis for the STD screening, diagnostic, and treatment recommendations included in the 2015 STD Treatment Guidelines.
  5. STD Fact Sheets
    1. Gonorrhea Fact Sheet
    2. Syphilis Fact Sheet
    3. DIS Fact Sheet
  6. Additional Resources
    1. Taking a Sexual History
    2. Syphilis Guide for Providers
    3. Virginia Reportable Disease List (Nov 2018)
    4. Letter from STD Program Director

Virginia Specific Resources


Last Updated: February 24, 2020.