This week the United Kingdom's top doctor penned a letter warning about the rise of "super gonorrhea," and the chilling report has spread across the internet faster than, well, gonorrhea.
In her note, chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies cautioned that gonorrhea is rapidly developing resistance to certain drugs and could become "untreatable." Davies also urged the country's physicians and pharmacies to ensure they are prescribing the proper combination of antibiotics to prevent it from spreading.
While the warning was issued in England, it's also extremely relevant in the United States. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave gonorrhea its highest ranking for antibiotic resistance, calling the threat of a drug-resistant gonorrhea "urgent" and stating that the disease is a "public health threat that requires urgent and aggressive action."
If it's been a while since you saw the inside of a sex education classroom—gonorrhea is caused by the bacterial strain neisseria gonorrhoeae and is spread through unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Symptoms can include a thick discharge from sexual organs, pain during urination, and bleeding between periods—though some people with the infection don't show any symptoms. When left untreated, the infection can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.
When detected early, gonorrhea can often be treated with antibiotics—but the CDC warns that the bacteria is showing resistance to some of the most common drugs used to fight it. The group estimates that about 820,000 cases of gonorrhea occur annually in this country, and roughly 30% of those cases are resistant to at least one antibiotic.
The news offers a stark reminder to use protection and get tested. You should also be aware that where you live may increase your risk of exposure. The folks at HealthGrove, a health news and information site, put together this map breaking down gonorrhea rates by state based on 2012 data—and some regions are clearly more infected than others. (You can roll over states for specific rates.)
As you can see, the South is home to several gonorrhea hot zones. For example, in Mississippi, there are 230.8 cases of gonorrhea per 100,000 people. In Louisiana, there are 194 cases per 100,000 people, and in Alabama, there are 193 per 100,000 people.
Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, there are only about 11 cases per 100,000 people—your odds of exposure are much lower there and other parts of the Northeast.
Of course, this is not the first time the South has been called out on its poor STD track record. In a 2015 ranking compiled by Trojan Condoms and Variance, a research and communications firm dedicated to promoting sexual health, Louisiana, Georgia, and Mississippi took the top three spots for states that have the "least safe sex." Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas also cracked the top ten.
Notably, many states where STD rates are high are also less likely to teach comprehensive sex education. That's not a coincidence.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.