Up until recently, contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as gonorrhea was messy and inconvenient, but nothing some standard-issue antibiotic couldn’t handle.
Enter the “superbug.”
Gonorrhea has just gone rogue, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), who has issued a warning about three gonorrhea superbugs – bacteria that cannot be killed by the best available drug – detected in Japan, France and Spain.
There are 820,000 new gonorrhea infections in the U.S. annually according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 78 million worldwide. But now gonorrhea has developed resistance to nearly every class of antibiotics used to treat it. These include medicines such as penicillin, tetracycline and fluoroquinolones, according to CDC.
What makes superbugs so super is their ability to evolve new defenses rapidly. In the data WHO collected from 77 countries there is indicated a widespread resistance to older, cheaper antibiotics. In some countries, the infection has become “untreatable by all known antibiotics.”
As clever as these new “smart STDs” may be, part of the problem is man-made. Most people who get infected with gonorrhea are asymptomatic, and as a result many people are mistakenly diagnosed with, and treated for, gonorrhea. When antibiotics are used improperly, resistance to actual gonorrhea, as well as other bacterial disease, is built-up. Untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious long-term health problems which include infertility and chronic abdominal pain.
Starting in 2016, WHO began advising doctors to prescribe a two-drug combination of ceftriaxone and azithromycin. But still, a cluster of infections in Hawaii did not succumb as easily to the antibiotics as infections have in the past.
“Since 2005, we have seen four isolated cases that showed resistance to both drugs. But the Hawaii cases are the first cluster we have seen with reduced susceptibility to both drugs,” said Paul Fulton Jr., a spokesman for the CDC.
Early in 2017, gonorrhea was named among 11 types of bacteria that health experts believe pose the greatest threats to human health because they are in urgent need of new antibiotics. Unfortunately, the research and development pipeline for gonorrhea meds is relatively empty. There are only 3 new candidate drugs in any stage of clinical development.
The World Health Organization is basing its warning upon research published in PLOS.