Super-STD has no cure - and it's spreading

Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea can cause permanent damage - and it appears to be spreading.

Chana Roberts ,

Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria
Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria

Data from 77 countries shows that antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is becoming more common, the World Health Organization reported last week.

In a press release, the WHO noted that 78 million people are infected with gonorrhea each year, and in high-income countries, where detection rates are higher, there is a greater chance of discovering antibiotic-resistant strains of the disease. They also said that at least three people have completely incurable gonorrhea, and it's not clear if they are transmitting their infections to others.

Countries were included in the report if they had submitted data for at least one year between 2009 and 2014. 66% of the reporting countries saw at least one case of gonorrhea with some level of resistance to cephalosporin antibiotics, including oral cefixime and injectable ceftriaxone. 81% of reporting countries saw at least one strain of gonorrhea which was resistant, or had decreased susceptibility to, oral azithromycin. And 97% reported at least one case of gonorrhea which resisted treatment with ciprofloxacin.

Cephalosporin ceftriaxone and azithromycin are the last line of antibiotics used against antibiotic-resistant infections.

Meanwhile, in a teleconference with reporters, WHO officials admitted that they don't have enough data to assess the true scope of the problem.

Gonorrhea is an SDT, or sexually transmitted disease, meaning it travels through bodily fluids. Though many, if not most, people infected will have minimal or no symptoms, if left untreated gonorrhea can cause severe health complications, including infertility.

Common symptoms include painful or burning urination, discharge from genitals, swelling (in men), midcylce bleeding, a throat or anal infection, anal discharge, anal itching, anal soreness or bleeding, and painful bowel movements.

Patients with gonorrhea are also at a higher risk of contracting HIV.

According to WHO human reproduction specialist Dr. Teodora Wi, "The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them."

"These cases may just be the tip of the iceberg, since systems to diagnose and report untreatable infections are lacking in lower-income countries where gonorrhea is actually more common.

"We need to be more vigilant."

And according to the Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 820,000 new infections are in the US each year. However, most of these are not diagnosed, treated, or reported. And gonorrhea has developed a resistance to nearly every type of antibiotics used against it, including penicillin, tetracyclines, and fluoroquinolones.

One of the reasons for the anitbiotic resistance is that some gonorrhea patients who have the disease arrive at the doctor with what seems to be a throat infection and begin taking antibiotics intended to treat Streptococcal pharyngitis (also known as strep throat).

Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership Director Manica Balasegaram told CNN, "It's important to understand that ever since antibiotics appeared on the scene, neisseria gonorrhoeae (the bacteria that causes gonorrhea) has been fairly quick in developing resistance to all the classes of antibiotics that have been thrown at it."