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Case report
Verified clinical failure with cefotaxime 1g for treatment of gonorrhoea in the Netherlands: a case report
  1. Alje P van Dam1,2,
  2. Marc L van Ogtrop2,
  3. Daniel Golparian3,
  4. Jan Mehrtens4,
  5. Henry J C de Vries5,6,7,
  6. Magnus Unemo3
  1. 1Public Health Laboratory, Cluster of Infectious Diseases, Amsterdam Health Service, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2Department of Microbiology, Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis General Hospital, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  3. 3Department of Laboratory Medicine, Clinical Microbiology, WHO Collaborating Centre for Gonorrhoea and Other STIs, Örebro University Hospital, Örebro, Sweden
  4. 4Integral Physician Practice West, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  5. 5STI Outpatient Department, Cluster of Infectious Diseases, Amsterdam Health Service, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  6. 6Centre for Infections and immunity Amsterdam (CINIMA), Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  7. 7Department of Dermatology, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alje P van Dam, Public Health Laboratory, Cluster of Infectious Diseases, Amsterdam Health Service, Nieuwe Achtergracht 100, Amsterdam 1018WT, The Netherlands; avdam{at}


We describe the first case of treatment failure of gonorrhoea with a third generation cephalosporin, cefotaxime 1g intramuscularly, in the Netherlands. The case was from a high-frequency transmitting population (men having sex with men) and was caused by the internationally spreading multidrug-resistant gonococcal NG-MAST ST1407 clone. The patient was clinically cured after treatment with ceftriaxone 500 mg intramuscularly and this is the only third generation cephalosporin that should be used for first-line empiric treatment of gonorrhoea. Increased awareness of failures with third generation cephalosporins, enhanced monitoring and appropriate verification of treatment failures including more frequent test-of-cures, and strict adherence to regularly updated treatment guidelines are essential globally.

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Resistance to third generation cephalosporin-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae (NG) is of great concern for public health globally. Gonorrhoea therapy failures with cefixime (oral) and, rarely, the more potent ceftriaxone (injectable) have been verified in many countries around the world,1 and gonococcal strains with higher level of ceftriaxone resistance have been isolated in Japan, France and Spain.2–4 Until 2013, cefotaxime 1g intramuscularly was recommended for gonorrhoea treatment in the guidelines for Dutch general practitioners (GPs). No treatment failures with this antibiotic have been previously documented. Herein, the first verified gonorrhoea treatment failure with a third generation cephalosporin, cefotaxime, in the Netherlands is described.

In November 2012 (day 1), a 28-year-old man characterised as MSM (men having sex with men) presented to his GP with urethral discharge and dysuria, and urethritis was clinically suspected. A urine sample for nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) detecting Chlamydia trachomatis and NG was sent to a routine laboratory and he was treated with azithromycin 1g orally because of suspected chlamydial infection. On day 6, he returned with unresolved symptoms; however, NAAT results were not yet available. A urethral culture was performed and the patient was treated with ciprofloxacin 500 mg orally. Cultures were done using GC medium (Oxoid) with LCAT (Lincomycin, Colistin, Amphotericin B and Trimethoprim) supplement (Oxoid), Vitox (Oxoid) and NAD (1 mg/L). Identification of NG was done by MALDI-ToF. On day 9, a positive NG culture was reported to the physician and the NAAT (Strand Displacement Amplification, BD Viper platform) for C. trachomatis was negative. The patient, whose symptoms had persisted, was treated with 1g cefotaxime intramuscularly, according to the Dutch guidelines for GPs. The NAAT of the initial sample for NG was positive, but this result was only available on day 12, since the laboratory had requested confirmatory NAAT testing. On day 12, the presentations persisted and a repeat new urethral culture was positive for NG. The patient denied having any sexual contacts since cefotaxime treatment was administered and test-of-cure cultivation on day 12. Treatment with ceftriaxone 500 mg intramuscularly was given and the symptoms were resolved on day 15, when the patient was contacted by telephone, and on day 20, when the patient visited the physician’s office. The patient refused to provide a subsequent test-of-cure sample.

The gonococcal isolates obtained pretreatment and post-treatment with cefotaxime were indistinguishable with multi-locus sequence typing (MLST ST1901), NG multi-antigen sequence typing (NG-MAST ST1407), NG multiple-locus variable-number tandem-repeat analysis and serovar determination (Bpyust). Using Etest on chocolate agar plates, the isolates showed in vitro resistance to cefotaxime (minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) =0.25 mg/L) and ciprofloxacin (MIC>32 mg/L), and intermediate susceptibility to azithromycin (MIC=0.5 mg/L) (, and a clearly increased MIC of ceftriaxone (0.064 mg/L) and cefixime (0.125 mg/L). As reference strains, WHO strains G, K, L, M, O and P were used.5 The penA, mtrR (including the promoter sequence) and porB (for detection of the penB resistance determinant) genes were sequenced as previously described.6 Both isolates contained a mosaic penA gene, type XXXIV,1 ,3 as well as an A-deletion in promoter of mtrR and the G120K and A121N amino acid alterations in penB. These mutations have been associated with resistance against cephalosporins.6

Successful treatment of NG with cephalosporins depends on the duration of the serum concentration of unbound antibiotic above the MIC of the strain. Due to the shorter half-life of cefotaxime of 1.3 h in comparison with ceftriaxone (7 h) after intramuscular injection, in combination with differences in protein binding, the time of unbound antibiotic over MIC of this strain will be 7.8 h after injection of 1g cefotaxime intramuscularly, but 35 h after 500 mg ceftriaxone intramuscularly.7 ,8 Accordingly, cefotaxime is no longer recommended for empiric treatment of NG in the Dutch GP guidelines and instead ceftriaxone is now recommended, which is in accordance with treatment guidelines for NG.9 In the Netherlands, ceftriaxone replaced cefotaxime in the Public Health treatment guidelines in 2007; however, the guidelines for Dutch GPs did not implement this replacement until 2013. Ciprofloxacin treatment, initially given to this patient, is outdated.

This report describes the first verified gonorrhoea treatment failure with a third generation cephalosporin, cefotaxime, in the Netherlands. The MLST ST1901, NG-MAST ST1407 multidrug-resistant gonococcal clone, with decreased susceptibility or resistance to third generation cephalosporins and resulting in treatment failures is widely spread in Europe, including the Netherlands, and basically worldwide.1 ,10 Accordingly, therapeutic failures with cefotaxime might have occurred more frequently than realised, particularly when the current case belonged to a high-frequency transmitting population (MSM).

Key messages

  • Treatment with cefotaxime 1g intramuscular was not successful in a patient with urogenital gonorrhoea.

  • The strain cultured from the patient was resistant to cefotaxime, had an increased MIC to ceftriaxone and belonged to an internationally spreading clone.

  • Ceftriaxone is the only third-generation cephalosporin that shoud be used for treatment of gonorrhoea.


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  • Handling editor Jackie A Cassell

  • Contributors APvD and MU planned the study and wrote the first draft of the paper. DG performed MLST, serology and sequencing of porB and mtrR. MLvO initially identified the patient as a putative treatment failure and with APvD performed pharmacokinetic analysis. MLvO and APvD supervised culture of strains, identification, susceptibility testing, MLVA and penA sequencing. JM was the physician who saw and treated the patient and provided all clinical data. HJCdV was involved in discussion and reviewing of all the clinical data. All authors were involved in analysing the results and writing the final paper.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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