New cases of untreatable gonorrhoea have been found in Australia, France, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that with resistance to the last antibiotic effective against gonorrhoea growing, millions of people will be left with no treatment options.
“Gonorrhoea is becoming a major public health challenge, due to the high incidence of infections accompanied by dwindling treatment options,” says Dr Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, from the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at WHO. “The available data only shows the tip of the iceberg. Without adequate surveillance we won’t know the extent of resistance to gonorrhoea and without research into new antimicrobial agents, there could soon be no effective treatment for patients.”
In response to this, the WHO is calling for better antibiotic use practices to slow the spread of resistance, and faster research to find new treatments. Part of its action plan to slow the spread is to increase the monitoring and reporting of antibiotic-resistant strains, as well as better diagnosis, prevention, and control of infections.
“Gonorrhoea makes up one quarter of the four major curable sexually-transmitted infections.” Since antibiotic development, it has developed resistance to almost all commonly-used antibiotics, such as penicillin, tetracyclines, and quinolones.
“We are very concerned about recent reports of treatment failure from the last effective treatment option – the class of cephalosporin antibiotics – as there are no new therapeutic drugs in development,” says Dr Lusti-Narasimhan. “If gonococcal infections become untreatable, the health implications are significant.”
Resistance such as this is caused by the excessive use of antibiotics, poor practices of use, and the inevitability of useful mutation and adaption.
“Untreated gonococcal infection can cause health problems in men, women and newborn babies including: infection of the urethra, cervix and rectum; infertility in both men and women; a significantly increased risk of HIV infection and transmission; ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion, stillbirths and premature deliveries; and severe eye infections occur in 30-50% of babies born to women with untreated gonorrhoea, which can lead to blindness.”