WHO Says Urgent Action Needed to Prevent the Spread of Untreatable Gonorrhea

Millions of people with gonorrhea may be at risk of running out of treatment options unless urgent action is taken, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Already several countries, including Australia, France, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom are reporting cases of resistance to cephalosporin antibiotics the last treatment option against gonorrhea. Every year an estimated 106 million people are infected with gonorrhea, which is transmitted sexually.

Gonorrhea is becoming a major public health challenge, due to the high incidence of infections accompanied by dwindling treatment options, says Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, from the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at WHO. The available data only shows the tip of the iceberg. Without adequate surveillance we wont know the extent of resistance, and without research into new antimicrobial agents, there could soon be no effective treatment for patients.

In new guidance, WHO is calling for greater vigilance on the correct use of antibiotics and more research into alternative treatment regimens for gonococcal infections. WHOs Global Action Plan to control the spread and impact of antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhea also calls for increased monitoring and reporting of resistant strains as well as better prevention, diagnosis and control of gonococcal infections.

Gonorrhea makes up one-quarter of the four major curable sexually-transmitted infections. Since the development of antibiotics, the pathogen has developed resistance to many of the common antibiotics used as treatment, including penicillin, tetracyclines and quinolones.

We are very concerned about recent reports of treatment failure from the last effective treatment option the class of cephalosporin antibiotics as there are no new therapeutic drugs in development, says Lusti-Narasimhan. If gonococcal infections become untreatable, the health implications are significant.

Antimicrobial resistance is caused by the unrestricted access to antimicrobials, overuse and poor quality of antibiotics, as well as natural genetic mutations within disease organisms. In addition, gonorrhea strains tend to retain genetic resistance to previous antibiotics even after their use has been discontinued. The extent of this resistance worldwide is not known due to lack of reliable data for gonorrhoea in many countries and insufficient research.

Untreated gonococcal infection can cause health problems in men, women and newborn babies including: infection of the urethra, cervix and rectum; infertility in both men and women; a significantly increased risk of HIV infection and transmission; ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion, stillbirths and premature deliveries; and severe eye infections occur in 30 percent to 50 percent of babies born to women with untreated gonorrhea, which can lead to blindness.
 
Gonorrhea can be prevented through safer sexual intercourse. Early detection and prompt treatment, including of sexual partners, is essential to control sexually transmitted infections.

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