A new surveillance study makes an alarming discovery: sexually transmitted disease (STD) gonorrhea has become resistant to one of the two antibiotics prescribed to treat it. Based on the study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the STD is almost considered “untreatable” as it can fight off azithromycin.

Quick Facts about Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is one of the most common STDs to exist in the United States:

  • Caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacterium that can infect the throat, genitals, and the rectum
  • Can occur in both men and women
  • Common in younger people from 15 to 24 years old
  • Around 800,000 infections exist in the US alone every year, but more than half remain undiagnosed
  • Symptoms include burning sensation while urinating and discharge that can be white or green, though some people don’t have symptoms at all
  • Treatment is done with two antibiotics namely ceftriaxone (injection) and azithromycin (oral dose)

The CDC did say that the duo of antibiotics still work, but there is a huge sign that future treatment options may not include azithromycin. This is distressing especially because gonorrhea is already resistant to other antibiotics, namely tetracycline, fluoroquinolones, and penicillin.

The Threat of Antibiotic Resistance

According to the latest information from the surveillance system of the CDC, there is a frightening rise in gonorrhea’s response to azithromycin, which is up by more than 400% from 2013 to 2014. In 2013, the weaker response to the antibiotic was only 0.6 percent. But a year later, the number hiked to 2.5%, equivalent to over 400% increase. This means that the STD showed decreased susceptibility, meaning there is weaker response to the antibiotics.

This infection manifesting on the eye may soon become untreatable.
This infection manifesting on the eye may soon become untreatable.

The number is still low even though it has shot up, but the bacterium has showed it ability to become resistant to antibiotics several times now, making gonorrhea a dangerous type of STD. And if the trend continues, the agency says the combination of azithromycin and ceftriaxone may not remain effective in the next few years.

The growing threat that gonorrhea may become untreatable in the future, combined with the increased occurrence of the disease, means it is more important than ever to prevent infections. If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause chronic pelvic pain and/or infertility in women, while testicular pain in men is a common consequence of the STD. In some rare cases, men can also become infertile. Gonorrhea can become fatal as well because the bacteria can move to the blood, affecting the joints and may move to the heart.

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