Gonorrhea Is Becoming Harder, & Sometimes Impossible, To Treat

Photographed by Megan Madden.
A press release from the World Health Organization (WHO) has some concerning news about gonorrhea. The sexually transmitted infection is becoming harder — and sometimes impossible — to treat, thanks to antibiotic resistance. The WHO data was collected from 77 different countries and three of them — Japan, France, and Spain — have shown untreatable strains of gonorrhea.
"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," Dr. Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at the WHO, explained in the press release.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 820,000 new gonococcal infections in the United States each year, but less than half of these infections are detected and reported to the CDC. Most people who are infected with gonorrhea don't have symptoms and may not know they have it.
Symptoms of gonorrhea include painful or burning urination, discharge from the genitals, or bleeding from the vagina between periods. It's also possible to have an anal or throat infection. Anal symptoms include discharge, anal itching, soreness, bleeding, or painful bowel movements.
If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (which can cause pain and infertility) and can lead to an increased risk of contracting HIV. The WHO attributes the increase in gonococcal infections to decreasing condom use, increased urbanization and travel, poor infection detection rates, and inadequate or failed treatment.
"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," said Manica Balasegaram, director of the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership, according to CNN.
Gonorrhea has developed resistance to nearly every class of antibiotics used to treat it, including penicillin, tetracycline and fluoroquinolones, the CDC said. It is recommended that people get tested regularly for STIs, and engage in safer sex practices like using barriers, including for oral sex. It's also been shown that rinsing with Listerine after oral sex can reduce gonorrhea bacteria in the mouth, but it is not a replacement for condom use.
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