Antibiotic-resistant super-gonorrhea is on the up, making this unpleasant sexually-transmitted infection (STI) even “smarter” and harder to treat, according to two new studies from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Around 78 million people are infected with gonorrhea each year. Usually it's treated using antibiotics, however, doctors across the world are coming across more and more cases where they’re not working as effectively as they used to.
The problem is particularly bad in high-income nations. This is because these countries tend to be better at screening for STI’s and the use of these antibiotics is more widespread.
"The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them," Dr Teodora Wi, Medical Officer in the Department of Human Reproduction at the WHO, said in a statement.
“These cases may just be the tip of the iceberg, since systems to diagnose and report untreatable infections are lacking in lower-income countries where gonorrhea is actually more common," she added.
Gonorrhea can be effectively prevented by simply using a condom during vaginal sex, oral sex, and anal sex. While many infected people won’t experience any symptoms, some will experience a nasty discharge, pain in the lower abdomen, and a burning sensation when they pee. It also comes with a long list of complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility, as well as an increased risk of HIV. These complications and symptoms disproportionately affect women.
If there’s anything to take away from all this, it’s this: use a damn condom.
The current pipeline for new gonorrhea treatments is “relatively empty” with just three possible drugs in development. Pharmaceutical companies are also put off investing in developing new antibiotics, as they are only taken for a short limited time and there’s a good chance they too will eventually become ineffective.
Nevertheless, the WHO is working alongside other organizations to help stamp out this looming problem.
"To address the pressing need for new treatments for gonorrhea, we urgently need to seize the opportunities we have with existing drugs and candidates in the pipeline. In the short term, we aim to accelerate the development and introduction of at least one of these pipeline drugs, and will evaluate the possible development of combination treatments for public health use," said Dr Manica Balasegaram, Director of the WHO’s Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership.
"Any new treatment developed should be accessible to everyone who needs it, while ensuring it’s used appropriately, so that drug resistance is slowed as much as possible."