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Untreatable gonorrhea: coming soon to genitalia near you

The sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea may be becoming resistant to the only two antibiotics left to treat it. The disheartening news comes from a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which yesterday reported that the STD’s resistance rates have increased in 2014.

Only two antibiotics are left to treat gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is currently being treated using a combination of two drugs, azithromycin and ceftriaxone. The two antibiotics are used together to slow down the STD’s resistance to the drugs, but national surveillance data shows that the drugs are losing their efficacy.

The percentage of Neisseria gonorrhoeae samples that were resistant to azithromycin rose to 2.5 percent from 0.6 percent, while those resistant to ceftriaxone rose to 0.8 percent from 0.4 percent. These percentage increases don’t seem high, but they’re worrisome to scientists. Even with the drug combination therapy recommended by the CDC, the bacteria are slowly becoming resistant.

“The potential for untreatable gonorrhea is a very real possibility in the future,” Robert Kirkcaldy, the report co-author, told STAT.

“The potential for untreatable gonorrhea is a very real possibility in the future.”

Gonorrhea is the second-most commonly reported notifiable disease in the United States, with 350,062 reported cases in 2014, according to the CDC. If untreated, gonorrhea can cause permanent health problems, like infertility and long-term abdominal pain in women. Pregnant women who are infected can pass on gonorrhea to the baby during birth, causing serious health effects like eye infections. At times, if the STD spreads to the blood or joints, it can be fatal.

Scientists can’t predict how long it may take gonorrhea to become completely resistant to all antibiotics. In the meantime, before a new antibiotic is developed, people should take precautionary steps — like using condoms — to avoid becoming infected in the first place.

“Continued surveillance, appropriate treatment, development of new antibiotics, and prevention of transmission remain the best strategies to reduce gonorrhea incidence and morbidity,” the CDC report concludes.


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