Most sexually transmitted infections (STI) can be treated with a course of antibiotics, but doctors are becoming increasingly concerned by the possibility of untreatable gonorrhoea.
Untreatable, or super gonorrhoea, is a type of gonorrhoea that is resistant to antibiotics.
Patients with the infection are often prescribed ceftriaxone, a single drug that is effective against the STI, but scientists fear gonorrhoea may soon become resistant to this too.
This isn’t deemed unusual, as gonorrhoea learnt to evade treatments back in the 1930s.
Now there are forms of super gonorrhoea which can render these antibiotics useless, and unless further treatments are developed, patients could find themselves at risk of complications from the bacteria.
Dr Teodora Wi, a medical officer at the World Health Organisation (WHO) explained that drug resistant gonorrhoea can be slowed by controlled use of the drugs and increased availability of diagnostic tests.
But she warned the world “must prepare urgently for the moment” when the final treatment no longer works.
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She added: “Gonorrhoea has been around since the Bible, it will work out a way to survive.”
According to the expect, gonorrhoea is the most effective at resisting antibiotics, compared to other common STIs, such as chlamydia and syphilis.
While ceftriaxone is still effective, it is beginning to show signs of losing efficacy; in the US and UK it is no longer combined with azithromycin because gonorrhoea is becoming resistant to this drug.
Katy Sinka, STI section head at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: “Our ceftriaxone-resistant cases are rare but they are treatable, especially if you’ve got resistance testing to know what they [the infections] might still be susceptible to.
“Super gonorrhoea is something rarer still and much harder to treat and something very much of concern.”
Symptoms of gonorrhoea are important to look out for but vary between men and women.
Symptoms in women include:
• An unusual vaginal discharge, which may be thin or watery and green or yellow in colour.
• Pain or a burning sensation when passing urine
• Pain or tenderness in the lower abdominal area
• Bleeding between periods
• Heavier periods
• Bleeding after sex.
Meanwhile, in men the symptoms are:
• Unusual penile discharge, which may be white, yellow, or green
• Pain or burning sensation when urinating
• Inflammation/swelling of the foreskin
• Pain or tenderness in the testicles
The infection can also appear around the rectum, throat, or eyes as well as the genitalia.
As well as symptoms differing between men and women so do the complications.
Complications of gonorrhoea
In women, gonorrhoea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) if it spreads to the reproductive organs.
Shocking figures have shown this occurs in around 20 percent of cases of untreated gonorrhoea.
PID can increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy, infertility, pelvic pain, miscarriage and premature birth, if left untreated.
Meanwhile, in men the STI can cause a painful infection in the testicles and infertility in a small number of patients.
In very rare cases gonorrhoea can also cause life-threatening sepsis infection in the blood.
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