OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the prevalence and epidemiology of penicillinase producing Neisseria gonorrhoeae (PPNG) and tetracycline resistant N gonorrhoeae (TRNG) in the period 1977-95 in the Netherlands. To compare auxotypes, serovars, and antibiograms of PPNG, non-PPNG, and TRNG. To identify determinants in patient characteristics for the epidemic spread of TRNG/PPNG. METHODS: With respect to the national gonococcal surveillance all PPNG isolates from 30 laboratories over the country in 1977-90 and all gonococcal isolates from five sentinel laboratories (during 1 month per quarter) in 1991-5 were collected. Isolates were auxotyped and serotyped, the susceptibility for various antibiotics was tested and plasmid contents were evaluated. Additional data on PPNG infected individuals were collected retrospectively during a microepidemic of TRNG/PPNG. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed to identify risk factors for TRNG/PPNG infections. RESULTS: In 1995 an overall high prevalence of PPNG infection (27%) and TRNG among PPNG infection (24%) was found in the Netherlands. Importantly, PPNG were found to have higher MICs for ceftriaxone and ciprofloxacin than non-PPNG; clinically relevant resistance to these antibiotics (or related agents) may emerge first among these strains. The observed diversity of strains (123 auxo/serovar classes since 1988) indicates a continuous introduction of new strains into the community. The epidemic increase of TRNG/PPNG was mainly caused by A/S classes NR/1B-6, PRO/1A-3, and PRO/1A-6, suggesting a clonal spread of a few strains; the rapid spread was associated with transmission in high risk individuals (that is, prostitutes and their clients). CONCLUSION: The prevalence of PPNG in the Netherlands remains high and reduced sensitivity to other antimicrobials was detected among the PPNG strains. This underlines the necessity for a continuous national surveillance of resistance in gonococci including limited epidemiological information.
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