After a patient travelling from central Europe was found to have a highly dangerous strain of gonorrhea in Australia, doctors both there and in New Zealand have been on high alert.
Known as the most dangerous, and highly resistant, strain of gonorrhea, this particular “superbug” could be considered a public health threat, according to health experts. The strain is called A8806 and is similar to another untreatable form of the sexually-transmitted disease known as H041.
This particular strain appears every so often, and has been identified for years as a frighteningly resistant bug that could cause a serious problem if it catches on. In the U.S., doctors have been bracing for this untreatable bug since it popped up in Hawaii in 2013. Other countries that have occasionally seen the bug include Norway and Japan. Gonorrhea, which is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhea, is capable of mutating to become resistant to the current drugs we use to fight the STD.
The most common — and less dangerous — form of gonorrhea can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat. It’s particularly common among young people aged 15-24 years old. Symptoms include a burning sensation during peeing, increased discharge in both women and men, and for women, vaginal bleeding in between periods.
Fortunately, regular gonorrhea can be cured by taking the correct medications, and patients can begin having sex again seven days after completing all the medicine. However, they're also still subject to re-infection if they have unprotected sex with an infected person again. Leaving gonorrhea untreated can be bad, causing serious complications later on, like scar tissues that block fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancy, or infertility. Preventing gonorrhea is best by either abstaining from sex completely, using condoms, or staying in a monogamous relationship with someone who is clean.
But what’s frightening about the gonorrhea superbug is that it is resistant to antibiotics that are normally effective against regular stains. “This is a major public health concern,” Dr. Edward Coughlan, New Zealand Sexual Health Society president, said, especially since untreated gonorrhea can cause serious complications — like infertility, fever, arthritis-like symptoms, and meningitis. Many health officials believe that it’s not a matter of if the superbug will strike the states, but when.
But before getting scared, be aware that experts don’t think it will be as bad as AIDS if it were to hit — though some media outlets made that claim last year. To protect yourself from regular gonorrhea and the resistant strain, be sure to get yourself and your partner(s) tested for STDs, wear condoms, or simply refrain from sex at all.