Beware: This STI Is Becoming Impossible To Treat!


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By Cara Spunk; Additional reporting by Megan Flemmit

This once treatable STI is getting too smart for antibiotics.

Gonorrhoea is often thought of as a curable sexually transmitted disease, but according to the World Health Organization(WHO), that may no longer be the case.

The STI presents itself with a burning sensation while urinating and unusual genital discharge (or no symptoms at all). According to the an estimated 78 million adults are infected with gonorrhoea each year, with 11.4 million of these cases found in the Africa. Gonorrhoea is the second most common STI in South Africa, according to the journal.

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When left untreated the disease can result in pelvic inflammatory disease (which can cause infertility) and long-term abdominal pain — complications that disproportionately affect women. It is becoming increasingly difficult to treat gonorrhoea, and in some cases it is impossible.

“The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them,” says Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at the WHO, in a press release.

Data was collected from 77 countries that showed that there is widespread resistance to some of the older and more affordable antibiotics on the market. The WHO reports that countries with higher incomes, where there is better STI surveillance, are the ones where these untreatable strains are most likely to be found.

In the early 2000s, Japan reported that cefixime, one of the drugs used to treat gonorrhoea, had failed to treat certain cases. Soon after, a small amount of patients with gonorrhoea in Austria, Canada, France, Norway, South Africa and the UK weren’t able to be treated with this drug.

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As a result of emerging drug-resistant strains of neisseria gonorrhoeae (the bacteria which causes gonorrhoea), a dual action treatment plan is recommended by the WHO. Patients are given an injection of ceftriaxone and either azithromycin or doxycycline – both of which are taken orally. However, data from the 77 countries indicate that at least 50 of these countries, including South Africa, have reported to these drugs.

Additionally, the WHO has discovered three superbugs — currently impossible to kill bacteria — in France, Japan and Spain.

Earlier this year, the international health organisation announced that gonorrhoea was one of the types of bacteria posing the greatest threat to human health, and in desperate need of new antibiotics. Unfortunately, the WHO says that there are currently only three new candidate drugs in development.

Looking for more on STI’s? Here’s the lowdown on the STD you’ve probably never heard of, this clears up what the difference is between STIs and STDs.

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