Drug-Resistant ‘Superbug Gonorrhoea’ Is Emerging, WHO Warns


gonorrhoea antibiotic resistance

By Dr. Dominic Rowley, Medical Director, LetsGetChecked

Untreatable strains of gonorrhoea are rapidly on the rise, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. At least three people worldwide are infected with an untreatable superbug strain of gonorrhoea, fuelling fears that last-resort treatment will be useless.

Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the US after chlamydia, with almost 400,000 confirmed cases reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2015, representing a 13% increase from 2014. Last year, the WHO estimated that over 78 million people worldwide contracted gonorrhoea last year, with men and women under 25 being the most affected.

Gonorrhoea is an incredibly virulent infection and it spreads through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, along with the sharing of sex toys that have not been washed properly or covered with a new condom. Troublingly, many of those who contract the disease experience no symptoms, but if left untreated can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, as well as increasing the risk of getting HIV.

“Gonorrhoea is a very smart bug. Every time you introduce a new type of antibiotic to treat it, this bug develops resistance to it,” Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at the WHO.

Antibiotic Resistance simply refers to when a bacterium can resist the effects of an antibiotic drug that was previously successfully in treating it.

Drug Resistance

Between 2009 and 2014, the WHO discovered widespread resistance to first-line antibiotics for gonorrhoea, along with increasing resistance to other antibiotic drugs, such as azithromycin, and worryingly, the emergence of resistance to last-resort treatments known as extended-spectrum cephalosporins (ESCs).

In most countries, it said, ESCs are now the only antibiotics that remain effective for treating gonorrhoea. Yet resistance to them has already been reported in 50 countries. There is a pressing need for new medicines. However, the pipeline is very thin and with reports of only potential new gonorrhoea drugs in development, there is no guarantee any will prove effective.

“To control gonorrhoea, we need new tools and systems for better prevention, treatment, earlier diagnosis, and more complete tracking and reporting of new infections, antibiotic use, resistance and treatment failures,” said Marc Sprenger, director of antimicrobial resistance at the WHO.

Since the introduction of antibiotics in 1930s, gonorrhoea has shown a remarkable ability to always stay ahead of our most effective antibiotics.

As gonorrhoea becomes more and more difficult to treat, this is having significant impacts on the healthcare system due many patients being asymptomatic. A big part of the problem is that many STDs do not show symptoms, so people may not know that they have gonorrhoea and are infecting others.

With there being no guarantee that there is an effective treatment close to being made available, our focus must shift to what we can do to stay protected.

How to Stay Protected

As always, it is important to practice safe sex with condoms, open communication with partners, and regular sexual testing, especially when entering into new relationships. Sexual health testing can be accessed through your local physician or clinic, or you can visit LetsGetChecked.com for a convenient and confidential test delivered directly to your location.

Gonorrhoea Symptoms:

Symptoms in men:

  • Burning feeling when you urinate
  • A white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis
  • Painful or swollen testicles

Symptoms in women:

  • Burning feeling when you urinate
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods

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Watch Dr. Rowley explain antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea:

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