Gonorrhea is fairly low on the sexual risk register, with few people as concerned with a bout of the clap than they are more serious sexually transmitted infections like HIV, or the lifelong buddy herpes, or even terminal consequences… like a baby.
However, gonorrhea may soon be much more of a concern for unprotected sex than we’re accustomed to, as the World Health Organization says that the bacterial STI is becoming antibiotic resistant. Antibiotic resistance is a growing issue worldwide, and gonorrhea is just one of the diseases currently adapting to fight the drugs we’ve developed to clear up an infection.
Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea was first observed in Japan in 2008, and the WHO clocked the emerging problem back in 2011. Now the global health body reports that doctors in Japan who first noticed the new strain warned that the gonorrhea on steroids could “transform a once easily treatable infection into a global health threat.”
Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan of the WHO’s department of reproductive health and research spoke about the new threat during a conference in Geneva, explaining that each year 106 million people worldwide contract gonorrhea:
“Gonorrhoea is becoming a major public health challenge… The organism is what we term a superbug – it has developed resistance to virtually every class of antibiotics that exists. If gonococcal infections become untreatable, the health implications are significant.”
Lusti-Narasimhan also spoke of a need for more comprehensive record keeping when it comes to gonorrhea in the wake of the new superbug strain, saying many cases go uncounted:
“The available data only shows the tip of the iceberg… Without adequate surveillance we won’t know the extent of resistance…and without research into new antimicrobial agents there could soon be no effective treatment for patients.”
Francis Ndowa was WHO’s lead specialist for sexually transmitted infections, and he describes an aspect of the gonorrhea mutation that nearly sounds like a horror film. Ndowa explains:
“They used to say that if you have urethral gonorrhoea you go to the toilet to pass urine, it would be like passing razor blades. It was that painfu. Now people with gonorrhoea sometimes…only notice the discharge if they look when they pass urine, it’s not that painful anymore.”
“So the organism has readjusted itself to provide fewer symptoms so that it can survive longer. It’s an amazing interaction between man and pathogen.”
Combination antibiotics are recommended to combat the growing gonorrhea issue.