The Grapevine

World's First Case Of Drug-Resistant Super Gonorrhea Reported In The UK

Increasing concern has surrounded the treatment of gonorrhea in recent years after experts claimed that it was only a matter of time before the sexually transmitted disease (STD) developed a resistance to antibiotics. If untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, infertility, as well as an increased risk of contracting HIV. In severe circumstances, the condition can be life-threatening if the bacteria spreads to the blood or joints.

On 27 March 2018, the first case of a highly drug-resistant form of gonorrhea was reported in the UK. Public Health England issued a warning stating that a British man had been infected with a case of "super" gonorrhea, named as such because the bacteria had shown complete resistance to the recommended dual first-line therapy. 

"First line treatment for gonorrhea is a combination of 2 antibiotics (azithromycin and ceftriaxone)," explained Dr. Gwenda Hughes, head of the STI section at Public Health England. "This is the first time a case has displayed such high-level resistance to both of these drugs and to most other commonly used antibiotics."

Dr. Hughes stated that the case was being investigated to make sure that the risk of transmission is minimized as much as possible. Public Health England has "introduced enhanced surveillance to identify and manage resistant strains of infection promptly to help reduce further spread," she said, adding that using condoms is the most effective way to prevent infections.

It was reported that the man was infected by the bacteria during a sexual encounter with a woman in South East Asia. Currently, the patient is being treated with a different antibiotic known as ertapenem. It may take up to a month for doctors to confirm if the treatment is successful.

Gonorrhea is usually spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex, but can also be passed on from a pregnant woman to her unborn infant. While the infection often causes no symptoms, the few observed cases have included signs such as a burning sensation during urination, bleeding between periods, abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina, and testicular pain. 

On a global scale, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that nearly 78 million people are infected with gonorrhea each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are about 820,000 new infections each year in the U.S.

"This report is one more confirmation of our greatest fear: drug-resistant gonorrhea spreading around the globe," said David Harvey, who is the executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD). "Here in the US and around the globe, we have to take drug-resistant gonorrhea seriously in order to invest in finding new cures and preventing infections. Working together, funding must be radically increased to combat this and other life-threatening STDs."

An annual gonorrhea screening has been recommended for men and women who are at risk due to being sexually active or having multiple casual partners. Along with evaluation and treatment, health care providers may also recommend getting tested for other STDs.

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