WHO: 'untreatable' new gonorrhea 'superbug' is in Britain
Disease is now a global health threat with reported cases in Europe, Japan and Australia
A NEW World Health Organisation statement released this week cautions that around the globe, gonorrhea is becoming fully resistant to antibiotics, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Scientists first reported a 'superbug' strain of gonorrhea in 2008, when cases in Japan proved resistant to any known treatments. At the time, the WHO warned that the new strain could transform a once easily treatable infection into a global health threat.
Those fears appear to have been borne out with many more countries, including Australia, France, Norway, Sweden and Britain reporting cases of the sexually transmitted disease resistant to cephalosporin antibiotics - normally the final option for treatment of gonorrhea.
Approximately 106 million people are infected with gonorrhea each year around the world and treatment with drugs like sulfonamides, penicillin, tetracycline and ciprofloxacin was, until 2008, quick, simple and effective. Now, however, even the last resort drug, cephalosporin, has become ineffective.
The WHO's Dr Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan said that "the available data only shows the tip of the iceberg. Without adequate surveillance we won't know the extent of resistance to gonorrhea and without research into new antimicrobial agents, there could soon be no effective treatment for patients".
He warned that there are no new therapeutic drugs in development, adding: "If gonococcal infections become untreatable, the health implications are significant."
Gonorrhea is passed through sexual intercourse, infecting the urethra, cervix, and rectum, and can cause infertility in both sexes. It also causes ectopic pregnancy, premature deliveries, miscarriage and still births, and eye infections leading to blindness in babies.
Francis Ndowa, formerly the WHO's lead specialist for sexually transmitted infections, said gonorrhoea has not only adapted to elude antibiotics but developed less painful symptoms, increasing its survival chances.
"They used to say that if you have urethral gonorrhea and you go to the toilet to pass urine, it would be like passing razor blades. It was that painful," he explained.
"Now people with gonorrhea sometimes only notice the discharge if they look when they pass urine, it's not that painful anymore."