Is a Common STD Becoming the Next Resistant ‘Superbug’?

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England's chief medical officer is warning that one sexually transmitted disease could become untreatable. Should people in the U.S. worry?

A warning from Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, is drawing attention to a sexually transmitted disease that could become untreatable, the British newspaper The Guardian reports.

Her statement follows an outbreak of a highly drug-resistant “supergonorrhea” that started in March in northern England. This strain of gonorrhea does not respond to the antibiotic azithromycin.

Davies wrote in a letter to England’s general practitioners and pharmacies:

“Gonorrhoea is at risk of becoming an untreatable disease due to the continuing emergence of antimicrobial resistance.

Gonorrhoea has rapidly acquired resistance to new antibiotics, leaving few alternatives to the current recommendations.”

MarketWatch has a pessimistic take on what could happen if the new strain shows up in the U.S.:

The bad news is that if a strain of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea should develop or rear its head in the U.S., there’s not a lot that can currently be done.

New remedies are in development but bringing drugs to market is a drawn-out, years-long process.

In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, issued updated STD treatment guidelines, noting:

Gonorrhea treatment is complicated by the ability of N. gonorrhoeae to develop resistance to antimicrobials.

For example, a strain of gonorrhea that is resistant to a type of antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones emerged in 2007 in the United States, prompting the CDC to stop recommending fluoroquinolones.

That left a type of antibiotics known as cephalosporins as the only class of antimicrobials left for treating gonorrhea in the U.S.

An estimated 820,000 new cases of gonorrhea, scientifically known as Neisseria gonorrhoeae or N. gonorrhoeae, occur each year in the U.S. It is the country’s second-most commonly reported communicable disease, the CDC reports.

Anyone who is sexually active can contract the disease, sometimes without experiencing any symptoms. Therefore the only way to prevent gonorrhea, according to the CDC, is to avoid all types of sexual intercourse.

Actions can be taken to reduce the chance of contracting gonorrhea, however. According to the CDC, these include:

  • Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative STD test results.
  • Using latex condoms the right way every time you have sex.

Actions also can be taken to reduce the chance of developing resistance to antibiotics in general. The CDC suggests that patients:

  • Ask if tests will be done to make sure the right antibiotic is prescribed.
  • Take antibiotics exactly as the doctor prescribes.
  • Only take antibiotics prescribed for you; do not share or use leftover antibiotics.
  • Do not save antibiotics for the next illness. Discard any leftover medication once the prescribed course of treatment is completed.
  • Do not ask for antibiotics when your doctor thinks you do not need them.
  • Prevent infections by practicing good hand hygiene and getting recommended vaccines.

Do you worry about so-called “superbugs,” sexually transmitted or otherwise, that are resistant to antibiotics? Sound off in our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

Stacy Johnson

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