LONDON - The sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhoea, risks becoming a drug-resistant â€˜superbugâ€™ if doctors do not devise new ways of treating it, a leading sexual health expert has said.
Catherine Ison, a specialist on gonorrhoea from Britainâ€™s Health Protection Agency, said: â€œThis is a very clever bacterium. If this problem isnâ€™t addressed, there is a real possibility that gonorrhoea will become a very difficult infection to treat.â€ s
Gonorrhoea is a common bacterial sexually-transmitted infection and if left untreated can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility in women. Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are at least 340 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted infections including syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis recorded every year among people aged 15 to 49.
Ison said the highest incidences of gonorrhoea were in south and southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Current treatment for gonorrhoea in most countries consists of a single antibiotic dose of either cefixime or ceftriaxone. But Ison said strains of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria were starting to become resistant and could soon become impervious to all current antibiotic treatment options.
â€œCeftriaxone and cefixime are still very effective but there are signs that resistance, particularly to cefixime is emerging and soon these drugs may not be a good choice,â€ she said.
Instances of gonorrhoea being resistant to multiple drugs, hence the definition of a â€œsuperbug,â€ have started to appear in Japan, where health authorities had decided to increase the dose to treat the disease.
Other reports of rising gonorrhoea drug resistance had also come from Hong Kong, China, Australia and parts of Asia. Ison said the best way to reduce the risk now, beyond encouraging the use of condoms which halt the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, would be to treat gonorrhoea with two different antibiotics at the same time.
This is a technique used in the treatment of other diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, one that makes it more difficult for the bacteria to learn how to conquer the drugs.
â€œThere are few new drugs available. So using more than one at the same time is probably what should happen in the first instance,â€ said Ison. â€œWe also need to set up good lines of communication between countries so that we can all talk to each other about whatâ€™s happening in gonorrhoea and make sure we change treatment strategies when we need to.â€
A WHO spokesperson said experts would discuss drug-resistant gonorrhoea soon.
Gonorrhoea becoming drug resistant