Decreasing condom use and inadequate treatment are just two factors that make gonorrhea much harder and even impossible to treat, the World Health Organization has warned.
The common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is rapidly developing resistance to antibiotics, highlighting a dangerous superbug strain infecting more people worldwide.
Gonorrhea-Causing Bacteria Becoming Smarter
"The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart,” said Dr. Teodora Wi, WHO medical officer for human reproduction, in a statement. “Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them."
The agency analyzed data from 77 countries that showed gonorrhea’s widespread antibiotic resistance.
Wi cited three cases — in Japan, France, as well as Spain — where the infection was totally untreatable. She warned, though, that these may simply be “the tip of the iceberg” given that lower-income nations have poorer systems to diagnose and report similar infections.
About 78 million people around the world pick up the infection every year. Gonorrhea can affect the genitals, rectum, and throat, and complications include infertility and an elevated risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Oral sex, decreased condom use, increased travel and urbanization, and insufficient or failed treatment all contribute to the rise in gonorrhea incidence, WHO added.
Sex Practices And STI
Throat infection emerges as the most concerning for health officials. According to Wi, antibiotics could lead to bacteria situated in the back of the throat developing resistance.
Antibiotics for treating infections such as a simple sore throat “mixes with the Neisseria species in your throat and this results in resistance,” she explained.
Putting the gonorrhea bacteria into this environment via oral sex can lead to the birth of the super-gonorrhea. In the United States, resistance specifically came from men having sex with men due to pharyngeal infection, the health official went further.
The STI spreads through unprotected oral, vaginal, and anal sex.
The WHO calls on nations to vigilantly track the spread of resistant gonorrhea and invest in the creation of new drugs.
The drug development pipeline for gonorrhea is “relatively empty,” WHO lamented, with only three new candidate medications in different phases of clinical trials. Developing new antibiotics for the condition isn’t too attractive for companies, as treatments span only a short time and become less effective as resistance develops.
Professor Richard Stabler from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine echoed these worries on superbugs, as drugs of last resort are now being employed in the fight against gonorrhea amid signs of treatment failure.
The agency said vaccines would ultimately be necessary to stop the infection in its tracks.