Gonorrhea Getting Harder to Treat

Antibiotic Resistance Pushing Gonorrhea Toward Superbug Status

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on March 29, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

March 29, 2010 -- Gonorrhea may soon reach superbug status, thanks to growing antibiotic resistance to the common sexually transmitted infection.

A new study shows that treating gonorrhea is becoming more difficult because the bacterium has become resistant to many antibiotics. If trends continue, researchers say there is a very real possibility that some strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae may become resistant to all current treatment options.

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted bacterial infection. If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility in women. Treatment for gonorrhea usually consists of a single dose of one of two antibiotics, cefixime or ceftriaxone.

"Choosing an effective antibiotic can be a challenge because the organism that causes gonorrhea is very versatile and develops resistance to antibiotics very quickly," researcher Catherine Ison, professor at the Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections in London, says in a news release. "Penicillin was used for many years until it was no longer effective and a number of other agents have been used since.”

Ison presented a report on the growing antibiotic resistance of gonorrhea at the Society for General Microbiology Spring Meeting this week in Edinburgh, Scotland. She says the bacterium that causes gonorrhea is highly versatile and adept at acquiring and developing resistance to antibiotics.

“The current drugs of choice, ceftriaxone and cefixime, are still very effective but there are signs that resistance, particularly to cefixime, is emerging and soon these drugs may not be a good choice," Ison says.

"There are few new drugs available and so it is probable that the current use of a single dose may soon need to be revised and treatment over several days or with more than one antibiotic will need to be considered," Ison says. "If this problem isn't addressed then there is a real possibility that gonorrhea will become a very difficult infection to treat."

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Society for General Microbiology Spring Meeting, Edinburgh, Scotland, March 29, 2010.

News release, Society for General Microbiology.

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