antibiotic pills
Antibiotics can't kill super gonorrhea. Image: shimgray/Flickr/CC BY-SA

A new strain of “super gonorrhea” has been discovered that is resistant to all known treatments of the disease. The new strain could become a global health threat, medical experts say.

Once treated with penicillin

Since the 1940s, gonorrhea has been successfully treated with penicillin. Almost immediately, however, medical professionals found it took more and more of the antibiotic to kill the bacterium. Penicillin still remained the number one drug used to combat the disease until 1985. By then the disease had mutated to such a degree that other forms of antibiotics became commonplace for its treatment. The drug mainly used these days is a class of antibiotics called cephalosporins.

‘Super gonorrhea’

Recently, a “super gonorrhea” has been detected. A “super virus” is one that is resistant to traditional forms of treatment. This new strain, called H041, is resistant to all known antibiotics.

The discovery was announced by Swedish researcher Magnus Unemo at the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Disease Research meeting, currently under way in Quebec City, Canada. “This is both an alarming and a predictable discovery,” said Unemo. “Since antibiotics became the standard treatment for gonorrhea in the 1940s, this bacterium has shown a remarkable capacity to develop resistance mechanisms to all drugs introduced to control it.” If not dealt with, he said, the disease could become a global threat to public health.

First found in Japan

H041 was first found in Found in Kyoto, Japan. It has not yet spread to the U.S., but many say that is only a matter of time. Dr. Kimberly Workowski, the Center for Disease Control’s coordinator of STD treatment guidelines, said, “Traditionally southeast Asia has developed resistant isolates, and then there is a slow spread across (the Pacific), eventually coming to the U.S.”

Dr. William Schaffner, of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., said:

“We need to implement a program so that pharmaceutical companies are motivated financially to pursue research in developing antibiotics. And both the public and professionals have to be much more rigorous in their expectations and use of antibiotics.”

Second most reported infectious disease

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacterium that can grow in the reproductive organs, mouth, throat, eyes and anus. It is the second most commonly reported infectious disease in the U.S. after chlamydia. There are an estimated 700,000 new cases every year in the U.S. alone. More cases are diagnosed in teenage girls between 15 and 19 than in any other age group.

Women affected with the disease may develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility or ectopic pregnancies. In men it can cause a condition in the testicles known as epididymitis, which can also lead to infertility. People infected with gonorrhea are also three times more likely to contract HIV if they come in contact with the virus. Many who are infected with the disease are unaware of it, which leads to serious health complications later on.


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