Health officials are warning about untreatable “superbug” strains of gonorrhoea that has spread to at least three people worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) said its likely being spread to others through sex.
“The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are particularly smart,” Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at WHO, said in a news release. “Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them.”
The sexually transmitted disease can infect patients’ genitals, rectum and throat, and is estimated to strike 78 million people per year. Gonorrhoea is often asymptomatic and if left untreated could cause pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, as well as increased risk of HIV.
The three cases, which were detailed in the journal PLOS Medicine, were confirmed in Japan, France and Spain. No known antibiotic has been effective in treating these patients.
“These cases may just be the tip of the iceberg, since systems to diagnose and report untreatable infections are lacking in lower-income countries where gonorrhoea is actually more common,” Wi said.
WHO analyzed data from 77 countries and reported widespread resistance to older and cheaper antibiotics, with decreasing condom use, increased urbanization and travel, poor infection detection rates and inadequate or failed treatment all contributing to an increase in instances.
“To control gonorrhoea, we need new tools and systems for better prevention, treatment, earlier diagnosis and more complete tracking and reporting of new infections, antibiotic use, resistance and treatment failures,” Dr. Marc Sprenger, director of antimicrobial resistance at WHO, said in a news release. “Specifically, we need new antibiotics, as well as rapid, accurate, point-of-care diagnostic tests – ideally, ones that can predict which antibiotics will work on that particular infection – and longer term, a vaccine to prevent gonorrhoea.”
Reuters contributed to this report.