Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea spurs international concerns

Anna Bellegante

Sexually active individuals need to be aware of growing concerns in the medical field. The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued an alert warning the public of increasing strains of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea.

According to the WHO website, an estimated 62 million people around the world are infected with gonorrhea every year. A vast majority of those infected individuals do not show symptoms, causing the infection to spread easily among the worldwide population.

Health officials are concerned that gonorrhea could be added to the list of “incurable” infections to join diseases such as herpes and HIV/AIDS. Between 2006 and 2011, the CDC saw a 17-fold increase in the gonorrhea samples resistant to cephalosporins, which are currently the last line of defense against the sexually transmitted infection.

Dr. Kenneth Fife, an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at Indiana University Medical School, told ABC News there is an urgent need to research and develop new treatments for gonorrhea.

“A major component of the threat is that there really is no backup plan if — most likely when — these more resistant organisms become more prevalent,” Fife said.

Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea cases have been reported in Japan, United Kingdom, Australia, France, Sweden and Norway, according to the Associated Press; however, it is likely that there are undetected cases in other countries. While the United States has not reported cases of drug-resistant gonorrhea, the CDC has set up a surveillance system.

Just because there are not any reported cases in the United States so far, Dr. Rebecca Fritzsche of Thielen Student Health Center said that is no reason to trivialize the severity of the situation. She says that low or no reported statistics of gonorrhea should not lure people into a false sense of security.

“If [antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea] happens to you, it’s 100 percent,” Fritzsche said. “We don’t want to go backwards and have more and more untreatable STI’s.”

Fritzshe went on to say that the purpose of spreading awareness is not to cause pandemonium but to inform the public so people can make informed decisions.

Symptoms of gonorrhea include burning or painful urination, frequent urination, redness or swelling of the genitals, discharge and sore throat. Mothers can transmit the disease to their children, causing eye infections or even blindness in newborns. If infection spreads to the bloodstream, fever, rash or arthritis-like symptoms may occur or it can even be fatal.

Prevention measures for drug-resistant gonorrhea include abstinence or using protection every time during intercourse, limiting the number of sexual partners and fully completing antibiotic treatments if diagnosed with gonorrhea. It is important to seek re-evaluation if symptoms persist after completing the antibiotic regimen. Communicating with sexual partners after being diagnosed with gonorrhea is absolutely critical so they can be tested and treated and prevent further contagion.

The CDC first issued warnings about drug-resistant gonorrhea in 2010. But with an increased number of cases and the WHO issuing the same warning two years later, Fritzsche said now is the time to act.

“We need to wake up and protect ourselves,” Fritzshe said.