Gonorrhea has long been a sexually transmitted disease that is treated with a strong dose of antibiotics. However, it may soon become untreatable as it develops resistance to the two antibiotics left that can treat it: azithromycin and ceftriaxon.
CBS News reports that antibiotic resistant strains of this STD have more than quadrupled in the United States.
Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention, stated:
“The confluence of emerging drug resistance and very limited alternative options for treatment creates a perfect storm for future gonorrhea treatment failure in the U.S.”
However, the rates of antibiotic resistant strains are still low, despite the fourfold increase in gonorrhea that is resistant to azithromycin. The rate recently rose from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent. For the other drug used to treat the disease, ceftriaxon, antibiotic resistance has doubled from 0.4 percent to 0.8 percent. Again, these are still low numbers overall.
Dr. Robert Kirkcaldy, the lead author on the study, said:
“It is low. But what we do know is that this bacteria has demonstrated the ability, repeatedly, to develop antibiotic resistance to the drugs that have been used for it. The potential for untreatable gonorrhea is a very real possibility in the future.”
The Scientific American notes that gonorrhea is a relatively common STD, though if left untreated, it can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences. One of the only preliminary symptoms is often discharge and burning at the site of the infection. If it’s left untreated, it can progress to infertility, chronic pelvic pain in women, and recurring testicular pain in men.
The bacteria can even move into the blood stream, infecting the joints and the heart. In some cases, this can be fatal. A woman can also pass it on to her unborn child, who may then develop severe vision issues as a result.
Although the resistance quotient is currently quite low, Kirkcaldy says that there will be a time when we no longer have the resources to treat it.
“We think … it’s a matter of when and not if with resistance. This bug is so smart and can mutate so rapidly,” he stated.
This is yet another example of how bacteria are developing resistances to our most prized medical defenses, developments which show us that we need to begin looking for other solutions to illness and disease.
Anna Scanlon is an author of YA and historical fiction and a PhD student at the University of Leicester where she is finishing her degree in modern history.