Gonorrhea could become untreatable by antibiotics, researchers warn

There were 350,062 gonorrhea cases reported to the CDC in 2014, making it the second most commonly reported notifiable disease in the U.S. Typically, gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, but the disease is growing stronger and increasingly resistant to the antibiotics typically used to treat it, according to the CDC.

The federal agency regularly collects and tests isolates of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, bacteria that cause gonorrhea. Of the 5,093 isolates collected in 2014, several were resistant to common antibiotics:

  • Tetracycline — 25.3 percent were resistant
  • Ciprofloxacin — 19.2 percent
  • Penicillin — 16.2 percent

Additionally, gonorrhea has become less susceptible to azithromycin and ceftriaxone.

"Treatment has been compromised by the absence of routine antimicrobial susceptibility testing in clinical care and evolution of antimicrobial resistance to the antibiotics used to treat gonorrhea," a CDC report reads.

Robert Kirkcaldy, MD, a medical epidemiologist in the CDC's Division of STD Prevention, believes sexually transmitted infection could soon be beyond our grasp.

"What we do know is that this bacteria has demonstrated the ability, repeatedly, to develop antibiotic resistance to the drugs that have been used for it," he told STAT. "The potential for untreatable gonorrhea is a very real possibility in the future."

Gonorrhea can cause serious problems in both men and women if left untreated. In women, the complications include infertility or long-term pelvic/abdominal pain. In men, it can cause a painful condition in the tubes attached to the testicles, or could cause sterility.

More articles on antibiotic resistance:
Study: 1 in 20 adults keeps antibiotics, uses them without a prescription
It may be safe for physicians to prescribe fewer antibiotics, researchers say
FDA, CDC warn hospitals of multistate Burkholderia bacteria outbreak 

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