The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported rising rates of gonorrhea and mutant strains of “super gonorrhea”. The latter is caused by bacteria resistant to traditional antibiotic drug treatments. The organization believes the current coronavirus pandemic may have worsened the problem. Firstly, because regular STI screening services have been disrupted.
Secondly, experts say that the overuse of antibiotics to try and treat the symptoms of COVID-19 may also have increased the spread of “super gonorrhea.”
A WHO spokesperson told The Sun, “Overuse of antibiotics in the community can fuel the emergence of antimicrobial resistance in gonorrhea. Azithromycin – a common antibiotic for treating respiratory infections – was used for Covid-19 treatment earlier in the epidemic.”
“During the pandemic, STI services have also been disrupted. This means more STI cases are not diagnosed properly with more people self-medicating as a result.
“Such a situation can fuel the emergence of resistance in gonorrhea including gonorrhea superbug (super gonorrhea) or gonorrhea with high-level resistance to current antibiotics recommended to treat it.”
Gonorrhea in the US hit an all-time low of transmission in 2009. However, it has continued to climb over the last decade. The most recent statistics for 2018 showed an 83% increase since 2009, with a reported 583,405 cases. It is the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the country, with gay men disproportionately affected.
At the same time, gonorrhea resistance to azithromycin has increased from 0.6% of all cases in 2013 to 4.6% in 2018.
Last month, the increase in resistance to azithromycin prompted the CDC to change its treatment recommendations. Instead of an injection of ceftriaxone and a tablet of azithromycin, most of those infected will now be given ceftriaxone alone.
However, some strains of the bacteria are beginning to show resistance to that, too.
In December, a resistant case of gonorrhea was identified in Nevada in which the infection was unresponsive to both ceftriaxone and another treatment, cefixime. Fortunately, the male patient in question could be treated with azithromycin. What concerns the experts most is if a version of the infection develops that is resistant to all the current treatments.
One potential hope on the horizon is the approval of new medicines. Two new antibiotics, zoliflodacin and gepotidacin, are currently undergoing phase 3 trials to determine their effectiveness. Pharma company GlaxoSmithKline is also soon to start a trial in the US of a potential gonorrhea vaccine.
Gonorrhea can be present in your throat, anus, vagina, or penis. Using condoms can help lower the risk of infection, but it’s also important to have a regular sexual health checkup, particularly as some people can have the infection but show no symptoms.
An untreated gonorrhea infection, even without symptoms, can lead to severe chronic complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.