Current guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends empiric treatment for persons exposed to sexually transmitted infections, including Neisseria gonorrhoeae (NG). As an antimicrobial stewardship measure, some clinics now recommend a test and treat strategy, but reliance on urogenital testing only may miss cases.
We conducted a descriptive analysis of pharyngeal NG infection in men who have sex with women (MSW) and women seeking care at a sexual health clinic in Seattle, WA, from February 2017 to July 2021 because of sexual contact to a partner diagnosed with gonorrhea. We also explored behavioral factors associated with pharyngeal NG positivity (by culture or nucleic acid amplification test by χ2 analysis.
Among 352 NG contacts tested for urogenital or pharyngeal infection, 34% were positive for NG at ≥1 anatomic site (27% for MSW and 40% for women). Among 161 NG contacts tested at the pharynx, 30% (n = 48) were positive: 20% of 54 MSW (n = 11) and 35% (n = 37) of 107 women. If only urogenital testing were performed, 36% of MSW NG infections (n = 5) and 19% of female NG infections (n = 9) would have remained unidentified.
Pharyngeal NG is relatively common among MSW and women who have been exposed to NG, and likely represents an underdiagnosed reservoir of NG infection. If empiric treatment is abandoned in favor of testing and treating, testing the throats of heterosexuals will be necessary.