Hoaxes & Rumors

Killer Gonorrhea Warning: Real or Fake?

Killer Gonorrhea Warning: Real or Fake?

A warning circulating online states that a new form of gonorrhea “worse than AIDS” has been discovered in Hawaii.

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The warning is mostly false.

The HO41 strain of gonorrhea mentioned in the warning is real – as is the threat of untreatable gonorrhea – but HO41 was never found in the U.S., and has not been seen anywhere in the world since its discovery in Japan in 2009.

Let’s first take a look at the warning:

Killer Gonorrhea

The CDC has discovered a new strain of an antibiotic resistant strain of Gonorrhea called HO41 and it’s killing people in a matter of days after the body goes through a septic shock.

They are dubbing this HO41 strain to be a lot worse than the AIDS virus due to the bacteria in Gonorrhea. It’s noted to be a lot more aggressive and affects more people faster.

Hawaii was noted to be the first place that discovered the HO41 strain according to the Center for Disease Control Prevention.

The new strain HO41 is currently resisting antibiotic treatment and they currently do not have anything medically to treat the superbug. HO41 has been placed in the superbug category with others such as MRSA and CRE. These superbugs kill about half the people it comes in contact with. Gonorrhea can cause infertility, is known to be painful and can lead to sterility. Also has been known to cause other life threatening illnesses including heart infection if left untreated. Over 800,000 STD case are reported annually just from Gonorrhea ranging from ages 15-24.

This "Killer Gonorrhea" graphic has often been circulated with this warning.

This “Killer Gonorrhea” graphic has often been circulated with this warning.


The HO41 “Killer Gonorrhea” story first broke around May 1, 2013 with an Associated Press report which was picked up by many news outlets. A Daily Mail article, for example, stated many of the claims in the warning above:

Doctors are warning that an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhoea, now considered a superbug, has the potential to be as deadly as the AIDS virus.

This particular strain of gonorrhea, known as HO41, was discovered in Japan two years ago in a 31-year-old female sex worker who had been screened in 2009. The bacteria has since been found in Hawaii, California and Norway.

Hawaii Case

Where the “Killer Gonorrhea” story went awry is that it reported HO41 had been detected in Hawaii, which is false. A strain known as H11S8 was found in Hawaii, but it was resistant to azithromycin – not ceftriaxone, which is the “last resort” drug for gonorrhea. The A.P. ended up retracting the story.


The HO41 strain was reported in 2009 in a Japanese “sex worker” and has not been reported anywhere else in the world since then. Other strains resistant to ceftriaxone have also been reported in small numbers in various parts of the world.

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CDC Response

When mainstream news outlets began reporting that HO41 had been found in Hawaii and California, the CDC issued a statement to refute many of the claims in the rumor.

Several recent news stories reporting cases of the H041 strain of gonorrhea in the United States are inaccurate. The H041 strain referenced in many of these news articles refer to a case detected in Japan several years ago. The H041 strain has not been detected since then, and was never reported in the United States.

CDC is, however, concerned about the threat of drug resistant gonorrhea and continues to raise awareness on this important public health issue, but it is critical to remember that currently-recommended treatment regimens remain effective in the United States.

Real Threat

Although the warning about HO41 contains inaccuracies, it does highlight the real threat of antibiotic resistant gonorrhea. While the STD was historically easy to treat with antibiotics, some strains of the bug have become resistant to all but a single type of antibiotic in recent years. Experts believe that it’s only a matter of time before an untreatable strain of gonorrhea hits the U.S.


The CDC states that the best prevention against gonorrhea is mutual monogamous sex, abstinence, or the use of condoms.

Bottom Line

The “Killer Gonorrhea” warning is mostly based on an A.P. report which was retracted because it contained erroneous information. The HO41 strain was never found in the U.S. and has not been seen anywhere in the world since 2009. Untreatable gonorrhea, however, is a real threat and health officials continue to raise public awareness on the issue.


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