Gonorrhea becoming resistant to antibiotics

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In some alarming news, federal health officials have announced that the sexually transmitted infection, gonorrhea, is becoming dangerously close to being untreatable. Consequently, the CDC has issued new guidelines advising doctors how best to treat gonorrhea.

Affecting about 700,000 Americans each year, gonorrhea can cause serious complications if left un- or inadequately treated, such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Gonorrhea was initially susceptible to sulfa, the first antibiotic class developed, sixty-plus years ago. Over the ensuing decades, however, it has become resistant to penicillin, ampicillin, tetracycline and deoxycycline, as they stopped working, one after the other. This pattern can be attributed to the bacterium that causes gonorrhea, which can mutate very quickly to defend itself. But another reason may well be the over-use or inappropriate use of antibiotics against the bug.

In an interview with NPR, Dr. Jonathan Zenilman, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, states, "A lot of this is occurring not because of treatment for gonorrhea but overuse for other infections, such as urinary tract infections, upper respiratory tract infections and so forth.

Currently, there are two antibiotics that still work well against gonorrhea cefixime and ceftriaxone. However, just yesterday, federal health officials announced the increasing evidence that gonorrhea is starting to become resistant to cefixime in the U.S.

The CDC has recommended new guidelines to treat the infection. First, ceftriaxone, which is administered as an intra-muscular shot, should be used instead of cefixime (a pill) to treat gonorrhea. Also, doctors are to supplement ceftriaxone with at least one other antibiotic, such as doxycycline or azithromycin.

Gonorrhea first became curable in the 1940s and now here we are back again with the real possibility of having no cure whatsoever, says ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom. He adds, The lack of new antibiotics is due to both unwise FDA policies and a change in pharmaceutical companies business models. The consequences are now starting to come home to roost. The principal impact of antibiotic resistance has been mostly confined to hospital patients. Now it s sneaking out into the public. This is not the last that we will see of this issue.