One of the most common sexually-transmitted diseases in the world is speeding down the path to becoming incurable.
Scientists are frantically trying to contain and treat an antibiotic resistant strain of gonorrhea that has already been found in Australia, France, Norway, the United Kingdom and several other countries.
“We are very concerned about recent reports of treatment failure from the last effective treatment option–the class of cephalosporin antibiotic–as there are no new therapeutic drugs in development,” Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan said in a statement from the World Health Organization. “If gonococcal infections become untreatable, the health implications are significant.”
Health officials haven’t reported any cases of the super-bug in the United States, but given human nature and the accessibility of trans-ocean flights and other modes of transportation, it would be naive to think that it won’t turn up stateside eventually.
CDC medical epidemiologist Robert Kirkaldy said that the disease has been building resistance ever since antibiotics were introduced as treatment in the 1930s. In the last three years however, the disease has morphed in ways that has health officials worried.
“Laboratory findings from all over the world, including the United States, have shown it takes higher and higher concentration of cephalosporin antibiotics to kill the bacteria,” said Kirkaldy. Even more disturbing are international cases of patients that test positive for gonorrhea but show no response to oral cephealosporin.
“Often, that's an early warning sign for coming resistance down the road,” said Kirkaldy.
CDC reports show that more than 700,000 Americans annually report cases of gonorrhea. The real number, including unreported cases, is estimated be more than twice that amount.
The bacteria is passed through anal, oral, and vaginal sexual intercourse and can be detected usually by the burning sensation or abnormal discharge usually seen within one to 14 days.
In a stunning testament to the evolution of the germ, the painful symptoms of gonorrhea have subsided over the years as the disease has changed its symptoms, go undetected and survive longer within the body. Gonorrhea can cause complications if left untreated in the uterus or fallopian tubes, leading to ectopic pregnancy and pelvic inflammatory disease.
The disease can be prevented all together by using a condom, carefully choosing sexual partners, and of course, practicing abstinence.