Emergence of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea

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Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria Image © Dr. David Phillips/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

Growing resistance to two leading antibiotic treatments could make the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea more difficult to treat, according to warnings from a British health official reported by the BBC. At a meeting of the Society for General Microbiology in Edinburgh, Dr. Catherine Ison, a gonorrhea specialist from the U.K.’s Health Protection Agency, warned that increasing resistance to antibiotics may mean that future cases of gonorrhea could require multiple doses to treat. Currently, the sexually transmitted infection—which can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and even sterility if left untreated—can be treated with single doses of the antibiotics ceftriaxone or cefixime, the BBC reports. Yet because of its versatile nature, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, develops resistance to antibiotics very quickly, Ison told the BBC: “There are few new drugs available and so it is probable that the current use of a single dose may soon need to be revised and treatment over several days or with more than one antibiotic will need to be considered… If this problem isn’t addressed then there is a real possibility that gonorrhea will become a very difficult infection to treat.”

For now, single dose treatments are still recommended, but should increasing resistance mean that physicians need to rely on multiple antibiotic doses, there could be negative public health consequences, according to Hugh Pennington, former professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University. Treating the condition with multiple doses introduces the potential of patients’ not completing full courses of medication, Pennington says, increasing opportunity for the bacteria to adapt to antibiotics. “This could make resistance, which could lead to a superbug situation,” he told the BBC. This alarming possibility adds to the many reasons why routine physical exams and STI screening are a good idea for people who are sexually active. And, of course, it underscores the importance of sexual protection—using condoms diminishes STI exposure in the first place.

Read the full BBC story here.