Gonorrhea Becoming a Drug-Resistant Superbug

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A health specialist from Britain’s Health Protection Agency stressed this week that strains of the sexually transmitted disease Gonorrhea has repeatedly adapted and overcome treatments to cure the infection and may soon be impervious to all antibiotic options, placing it among other drug-resistant superbugs such as MRSA.

Catherine Ison, who spoke Monday at the Society for General Microbiology and will speak next week at a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting in Manila, said that the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae was showing signs of developing resistance to the current antibiotic treatments of cefixime or ceftriaxone. Ison says that health authorities in Japan have noted the antibiotic resistance and have increased the recommended dosages given.

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Gonorrhea is the second most common sexually-transmitted bacterial infection after Chlamydia. If left untreated can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility in women. The highest incidences of the infection are among residence of south and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The CDC reported 336,742 cases in the US in 2008, with seven of the top ten states being primarily in the Southeast. The top five are Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, and North Carolina.

In February 2009, health officials in Canada noted an increase in the prevalence of quinolone-resistant gonorrhea from 2% in 2001 to 28% in 2006. The CDC in the US recommended against the use of fluoroquinolones such as ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin and levofloxacin as a treatment for gonorrhea in 2007 after finding a significant increase in drug-resistant cases.

Cefixime and ceftriazone are medications belonging in a class of antibiotics known as cephalosporins.

Ison said the best way to try to reduce the risk now -- beyond encouraging the use of condoms which halt the spread of sexually transmitted diseases -- would be to treat gonorrhea with two different antibiotics at the same time. This is a technique used in the treatment of some other diseases like tuberculosis and one that makes it more difficult for the bacteria to learn how to conquer the drugs.

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