The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in 2016 that the world is running out of ways to treat once easily-curable sexually transmitted infections, like syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea. The outlook on these infections is the same and even more so in 2020. The infection is reportedly becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics due to “misuse and overuse” of antibiotics, according to WHO. The organization also released new guidelines for treatment of gonorrhea as well as chlamydia and syphilis, which are also becoming resistant to the drugs typically used to treat them.
Gonorrhea is a relatively common disease, infecting 78 million people each year. Anyone who is sexually active can get gonorrhea, and the disease can spread like wildfire through unprotected sex. Some infected people have no symptoms at all, while others may experience burning with urination, and a swarm of other genital affections. If untreated gonorrhea can occasionally spread to affect joints or heart valves.
Traditionally, treating gonorrhea has been easy with antibiotics. But resistance to antibiotics has grown dramatically in recent years. Strains of multidrug-resistant gonorrhea that do not respond to any available antibiotics have already been detected, the main cause for this being antibiotics overuse in trivial cases.
“Gonorrhea used to be susceptible to penicillin, ampicillin, tetracycline and doxycycline — very commonly used drugs,” said Jonathan Zenilman, who studies infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins. “But one by one, each of those antibiotics — and almost every new one that has come along since — eventually stopped working. One reason is that the bacterium that causes gonorrhea can mutate quickly to defend itself, Zenilman said.
In light of the drug resistance to gonorrhea, the new guidelines from the WHO advises that doctors treating gonorrhea patients cease to prescribe quinolones, a class of antibiotics previously effective in the treatment of gonorrhea. Now, doctors are advised to use cephalosporins, a different class of antibiotics.
As for when antibiotic options will run out altogether, Teodora Wi of the WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research tells the journal Science, “We will have to have new drugs in 5 years, I think.”
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