Diabetes Drugs Linked to Rare Genital Infection

A new study found that certain types of diabetes drugs could be linked to a fatal genital infection. The study, which was published in the Annals of Medicine on May 7, looked at the ties between the sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 inhibitors (SGLT2) used in type 2 diabetes medicine and a genital infection called Fournier gangrene, which affects the genitals or genital area, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).

The “rare urologic emergency” is characterized as a necrotizing infection which kills body tissue and can cause inflammation in the tissue under the skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s also commonly known as “flesh-eating bacteria” and its symptoms include fever, malaise, and moderate to severe pain and swelling in the genital and rectal areas, according to NORD.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified 55 cases of Fournier gangrene from patients who took SGLT2 inhibitors between March 2013 and January 2019. The patients in the study – 39 men and 16 women, ages of 33 to 87 – had surgery and “were severely ill.” Three of the patients died, according to the study. Researchers used data from the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System, which the public has access to for reporting drug-related problems, USA Today reported. The FDA also compared the 55 cases associated with SGLT2 inhibitors to 19 other Fournier gangrene cases from 1984 to 2019 and linked the infection to other diabetic drugs.

The study warned that patients who take SGLT2 inhibitors may have complications. Prescribing doctors should be aware of these potential complications and take care to note the early stages of Fournier gangrene. The FDA also identified 12 cases of the rare disease in patients who were taking an SGLT2 inhibitor between March 2013 to May 2018. In September 2018, the FDA issued a warning to patients and health care professionals about the use of SGLT2 inhibitors for diabetes.

“Patients should seek medical attention immediately if you experience any symptoms of tenderness, redness, or swelling of the genitals or the area from the genitals back to the rectum, and have a fever above 100.4 F or a general feeling of being unwell,” the FDA wrote. “These symptoms can worsen quickly, so it is important to seek treatment right away.”

The CDC found that more than 30 million people in the US have diabetes, and one in four are unaware they have the disease. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the country and minorities including African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx Americans, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and some Asian Americans “are at higher risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes,” the CDC noted.

The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health (OMH) found that African Americans are 80 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician. OMH also found that African Americans have a higher chance of suffering complications from diabetes like lower limb amputations.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.