The incidence of penicillin-resistant gonorrhea in San Diego County has increased 50% during the last 12 months--a rise that county officials term "alarming" because they say it indicates that the strain is now well-entrenched in the community.

The number of cases of the sexually transmitted disease rose from 125 in the period from March, 1985, through February, 1986, to 188 in the following 12 months, county health officials reported Wednesday. Statewide, the number rose 75% from 980 to 1,706.

"When you see a rise of better than 50% in the county and 75% statewide, it reflects that it has become an established or endemic disease," said Dr. J. William Cox, director of the county Department of Health Services. "That is, it is going to stay with us."

Cox said the strain of bacteria responsible for the disease has modified its biochemical properties to produce an enzyme that destroys penicillin before it can take effect. As a result, doctors must treat the disease with Ceftriazone, a more expensive antibiotic.

"If you get this disease, you cannot be sure that you're going to get cured and not have complications," Cox said. Complications from the disease include sterility, pelvic inflammatory disease and abscesses, he said.

To avoid the disease, Cox said people should have sexual relationships with only one, trusted partner. If that is "too idealistic," he suggested the use of condoms as protection against gonorrhea as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.

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