A potentially dangerous sexually transmitted disease that infects millions of people each year is growing resistant to drugs and could soon become untreatable, the World Health Organization said Wednesday. The U.N. health agency is urging governments and doctors to step up surveillance of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, a bacterial infection that can cause inflammation, infertility, pregnancy complications and, in extreme cases, lead to maternal death. Babies born to mothers with gonorrhea have a 50 percent chance of developing eye infections that can result in blindness.
"This organism has basically been developing resistance against every medication we've thrown at it," said Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, a scientist in the agency's department of sexually transmitted diseases. This includes a group of antibiotics called cephalosporins currently considered the last line of treatment. "In a couple of years it will have become resistant to every treatment option we have available now," she told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of WHO's public announcement on its 'global action plan' to combat the disease.
Lusti-Narasimhan said the new guidance is aimed at ending complacency about gonorrhea and encouraging researchers to speed up their hunt for a new cure.
Once considered a scourge of sailors and soldiers, gonorrhea — known colloquially as the clap — became easily treatable with the discovery of penicillin. Now, it is again the second most common sexually transmitted infection after chlamydia. The global health body estimates that of the 498 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted infections worldwide, gonorrhea is responsible for some 106 million infections annually. It also increases the chances of infection with other diseases, such as HIV.
"It's not a European problem or an African problem, it's really a worldwide problem," said Lusti-Narasimhan.