Where have all the susceptible gonococci gone? A historical review of changes in MIC distribution over the past 75 years

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Abstract Background Does the emergence of antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae include the erasure of highly susceptible strains or does it merely involve a stretching of the MIC distribution? If it was the former this would be important to know as it would increase the probability that the loss of susceptibility is irreversible. Methods We conducted a historical analysis based on a literature review of changes of N. gonorrhoeae MIC distribution over the past 75 years for 3 antimicrobials (benzylpenicillin, ceftriaxone and azithromycin) in five countries (Denmark, Japan, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States). Results Changes in MIC distribution were most marked for benzylpenicillin and showed evidence of a right shifting of MIC distribution that was associated with a reduction/elimination of susceptible strains in all countries. In the case of ceftriaxone and azithromycin, where only more recent data was available, right shifting was also found in all countries but the extent of right shifting varied and the evidence for the elimination of susceptible strains was more mixed. Conclusions The finding of right shifting of MIC distribution combined with reduction/elimination of susceptible strains is of concern since it suggests that this shifting may not be reversible. Since excess antimicrobial consumption is likely to be responsible for this right shifting, this insight provides additional impetus to promote antimicrobial stewardship.