The bad news is that millions of people in the world (roughly 78 million) have gonorrhea - the sexually-transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium Neiserria gonorrheae. That news goes from bad to worse because those cases are increasingly difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat.
An announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that antibiotic resistance is on the rise for Neiserria gonorrheae with widespread resistance to some antibiotics - namely older and cheaper antibiotics.
The announcement comes together with the publication of a paper in the journal PLOS Medicine that analyzed the extent of the antibiotic resistance of Neiserria gonorrheae. In the breakdown of resistance from 77 countries, 97% of the countries surveyed reported gonorrhea cases resistant to ciprofloxacin, 81% reported cases resistant to azithromycin and 66% to cephalosporins.
Neiserria gonorrhea causes infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat. It is most common among young people (15-24 year olds) and can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has gonorrhea. Pregnant women can spread the infection to their newborns through childbirth.
Gonorrhea infections may have no symptoms. Alternatively, men may have a burning sensation when urinating, a discharge from the penis or painful or swollen testicles. Women may experience painful or burning sensation when urinating, an increase of vaginal discharge and vaginal bleeding between periods. In addition, if left untreated, a woman’s risk of developing HIV infection, infertility or ectopic pregnancy may increase.
For people up to speed on antibiotic resistance, this announcement comes as no surprise. Gonorrhea has been at the forefront of experts' concerns for some time now. However, with the resistant strains showing no signs of slowing down, too much attention cannot be paid to this ever-growing problem.
That is exactly what will happen at the STI & HIV World Congress taking place this week, where the WHO will host a session on “Tackling antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae: Need for a comprehensive and collaborative approach”. We'll be following the news that comes from that meeting closely and other advances made in this particularly concerning field.