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Gonorrhea Mutates Into Treatment-Resistant Superbug

The world may be at the brink of an epidemic of drug-resistent gonorrhea, though simply using condoms could save the day

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A gonorrhea culture. Photo: Nathan Reading

The sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea is gaining a stronghold against antibiotics, new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals. Gonorrhea—the second most common STD in North America, which afflicts more than 320,000 people in the U.S. each year—is typically vanquished with a simple dose of medicine, but lately the bugs have been finding ways to evade treatment, Scientific American reports.

Gonorrhea has a history of vanquishing antibiotics, first in the 1940s, then in the ’70s and ’80s, and finally in 2007. Now, the current treatment, cephalosporins, appears to be weakening against the disease worldwide.  Resistance first popped up in a Japanese prostitute in Kyoto, then quickly spread to North America and Europe. So far, resistance is occurring in about one in 15 infections, the researchers report. Unfortunately, no alternative treatments for gonorrhea exist at this time.

In an effort to prevent a gonorrhea epidemic, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that clinicians prescribe injections of drugs in addition to week-long courses of antibiotics, plus counseling on risk reduction and follow-up tests three months after treatment. As the New Yorker writes, “The primary hope for stemming the expected epidemic of resistant gonorrhea lies in persuading people to alter their behavior.”

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