Four years after a drug-resistant strain of gonorrhea surfaced in Japan, the World Health Organization reports that the infection has spread worldwide. The World Health Organization is renewing its call to raise awareness about the disease and for the development of new treatments to curb its reach.
Gonorrhea infects an estimated 700,000 Americans and more than 100 million people around the world every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It makes up a quarter of all sexually transmitted infections. Gonorrhea is most prevalent in the southern and southeastern parts of Asia as well as in sub-Saharan Africa. Other cases of this drug-resistant strain have already turned up in Australia, France, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Underreported data in many countries makes estimating the true extent of the current outbreak difficult.
The disease can be spread only through direct sexual contact and from mother to newborn during childbirth. It remains asymptomatic in 90 percent of all cases. Until recently, it has been easily treated.
Cause and Consequence
Experts say the root of this “superbug” strain is three-fold: a higher frequency of infections, an overuse of antibiotics, and fewer available remedies.
If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility in men and women, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion, premature delivery or stillbirth, and an acute neonatal eyelid infection that can result in blindness.
Global Action Plan
As the drug-resistant strain spreads, the World Health Organization urges greater awareness of how to avoid contracting gonorrhea and recommends that researchers study alternative treatments for gonococcal infections in the hope of controlling the impact of antimicrobial resistance. In addition to developing new antibiotics, experts say the best way to halt the spread of the disease is for those infected to be treated promptly and concurrently with two or more types of antibiotics—an approach that has proven successful with tuberculosis and increases the probability that the bacteria can build immunity to the drugs.
In a recent editorial, the World Health Organization laid out a three-step plan to tackle drug-resistant gonorrhea:
• Health-care workers must remain cautious and prescribe the appropriate antibiotics.
• Research into fresh treatment alternatives must be a priority.
• Public health agencies need to boost surveillance efforts.
Apart from gonorrhea, the rising threat of drug-resistant infections signals the need for more discussion and collaboration on HIV avoidance and protection from sexually transmitted infections because, when left untreated, gonococcal infections significantly increase the risk of transmitting and contracting HIV.