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WHO warns urgent action needed to prevent spread of 'untreatable' gonorrhoea

The World Health Organisation has warned of the spread of an untreatable strain of gonorrhoea which could potentially effect millions of people.

Image: melloveschallah via Flickr/Creative Commons

THE WORLD HEALTH Organisation has warned that urgent action is needed to prevent to spread of a strain of untreatable gonorrhoea, which could potentially effect millions of people.

The WHO says that each year an estimated 106 million people are infected with gonorrhea, which is transmitted through sexual contact. Several countries – including Australia, France, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom – have reported cases of resistance to cephalosporin antibiotics, which it described as the “last treatment option against gonorrhoea”.

Dr Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, from the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at WHO, said that treatment options for the infection were dwindling as drug-resistance was increasing. “The available data only shows the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “Without adequate surveillance we won’t know the extent of resistance to gonorrhoea and without research into new antimicrobial agents, there could soon be no effective treatment for patients.”

The WHO has published a new action plan, calling for a greater vigilance to ensure that antibiotics are correctly administered and taken. It also encourages more research into alternative treatment regimens for gonococcal infections, as well as better monitoring and reporting of resistant strains.

Antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance can caused by several factors, including unrestricted access to antimicrobials, the overuse and poor quality of antibiotics, and natural genetic mutations within disease organisms.

Notably, strains of gonorrhoea often retain genetic resistance to previous antibiotics even after their use has been discontinued. The WHO says that the extent of such resistance on a global scale is not known because of a lack of reliable data and insufficient research.

Left untreated,  gonorrhoea can cause health problems in men, women, and newborn babies.

  • Infertility (in both men and women)
  • A significantly increased risk of HIV infection and transmission
  • Ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion, stillbirths and premature deliveries
  • Severe eye infections occur in 30-50 per cent of babies born to women with untreated gonorrhoea, which can lead to blindness

“We are very concerned about recent reports of treatment failure from the last effective treatment option – the class ofcephalosporin antibiotics – as there are no new therapeutic drugs in development,” said Dr Lusti-Narasimhan. “Ifgonococcal infections become untreatable, the health implications are significant.”

Read: Superbugs evolving faster than medicine, worried experts warn

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