Drug-resistant ‘super Gonorrhea' on the Rise Worldwide: Q-and-A on What to Know

Why has gonorrhea become a much-discussed topic?Because the infection is becoming harder — in some cases almost impossible — to treat, according to a report released July 7 by the World Health Organization. A single dose of antibiotics used to clear the infection, but new, drug-resistant strains of the bug have emerged.What is gonorrhea?It’s a sexually transmitted disease that can cause infection in the throat, genitals and rectum. It’s spread through oral, anal and vaginal sex and can be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby during childbirth. If infected bodily fluids come into contact with the eyes, gonorrhea can cause the eyes to become red and sticky.The WHO says upwards of 70 million people are infected with gonorrhea each year, but some experts say the number is probably a lot higher.What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?In men, a yellow, green or white discharge from the penis and a burning sensation during urination are the main symptoms. Rarely, gonorrhea can make the testicles swell. In women, gonorrhea is easily mistaken for a bladder infection because it can cause a burning sensation while urinating. It also can cause discharge from the vagina and bleeding in between periods.Rectal gonorrhea can cause painful bowel movements, soreness and discharge. In the throat, it can resemble strep throat.One problem with gonorrhea is that it sometimes can present no symptoms at all. But if untreated, it can block the fallopian tubes and lead to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancies in women. In men, it can cause sterility. How is it treated?A single dose of antibiotics used to cure the infection. Now, because the bacteria is resistant to these drugs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends treatment with two medicines — one injection and one pill.It's important to return to the doctor if symptoms still exist a few days after the antibiotics are taken, because the gonorrhea may be an antibiotic-resistant strain.How big is the problem of antibiotic resistance?It's huge. Two million Americans fall sick with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics every year, and 23,000 of them die from the infection. When it comes to gonorrhea specifically, antibiotic resistance is spreading and making it harder to cure the disease.The WHO runs the global Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance Program (GASP) in 77 countries. It found that in 97 percent of countries, some strains of gonorrhea had developed widespread resistance to ciprofloxacin, the antibiotic that doctors typically reach for to treat gonorrhea. Further, in 81 percent of countries, certain strains have become resistant to azithromycin, a different kind of antibiotic.And most disturbing is news that gonorrhea is becoming resistant to extended-spectrum cephalosporins, the antibiotic of last resort.Isn’t there a vaccine that prevents gonorrhea?No, but there may be one in the works. It turns out that a vaccine to prevent meningitis may also protect against gonorrhea — the two infections are caused by similar bacteria.After a big meningitis outbreak in New Zealand in the late 1990s, scientists developed a vaccine against the particular strain of bacteria that was causing the outbreak. The vaccine was designed only to protect against meningitis, swelling of the brain's lining. But it turned out that people who got the vaccine contracted gonorrhea at significantly lower rates than those who didn't get vaccinated. That study was published July 10 in the medical journal Lancet. Still, we're probably years away from a gonorrhea vaccine.What about new antibiotics?Only three are in the pipeline, and it could be years before we know if the experimental drugs work.In the meantime, how do I avoid getting gonorrhea?Use condoms, and make sure you’re using them correctly. Don’t assume that oral sex is safe sex; gonorrhea can be spread from mouth to genitals and from genitals to mouth. Keep in mind that not all sexually transmitted infections cause symptoms. Get tested.Find a free and confidential sexual health clinic near you at https://gettested.cdc.gov.  Continue reading...

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