Super drug-resistant gonorrhoea spreading across the globe

Gonorrhoea bacteria have become progressively more resistant to antibiotics.
Gonorrhoea bacteria have become progressively more resistant to antibiotics.

Earlier this year, doctors diagnosed a "patient zero" in England with a case of gonorrhoea that could not be cured with antibiotics commonly deployed against the sexually transmitted bacteria.

Americans should expect that a super-resistant form of gonorrhoea like that found in the United Kingdom will soon reach these shores, health experts say. The same applies to South Africa and the rest of the world.

An inexorable process

This was shocking to the public, but not unexpected to those in the know, health officials said. According to an article in the New York Post, doctors and scientists have been warning for years that the bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are becoming more resistant to antibiotics.

"The development of antibiotic resistance by gonorrhoea is an inexorable process," said Dr Edward Hook, an infectious disease expert with the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "It began soon after the first antibiotics were used to treat gonorrhoea, and has continued since that time. It's progressive and relatively predictable."

Unless new antibiotics are developed against gonorrhoea, or a vaccine created, these kinds of extreme cases will begin showing up in the United States, said Hook.

Dr Bruce Farber agreed. He is chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, and at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York.

"Resistant gonorrhoea already is all over the United States," Farber said. "It's maybe not a strain like that you've just read about from the UK, which is extraordinary, but nevertheless generally these cases are occurring."

A previous Health24 article states that treatment failure of gonorrhoea in the case of third-generation cephalosporins has already been confirmed in South Africa.

'The clap'

Gonorrhoea, also called "the clap", is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases worldwide.

It infects an estimated 78 million people globally each year, according to the World Health Organization.

In the United States, gonorrhoea is on the rise, jumping nearly 19% in 2016 from the year before, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr Amesh Adalja is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in Baltimore. "Rates of gonorrhoea are increasing and are tied to unsafe sexual behaviours, and these resistant strains could make inroads into the gonorrhoea epidemic in the US," he said.

"Highly antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea is one of the most urgent infectious disease threats we face. There truly is the prospect of clinicians encountering untreatable strains of the bacteria," Adalja warned.

Image credit: iStock

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