A gonorrhea superbug?

A report published recently in the United States shows clear signs of a potential resistance in the bacterium that causes gonorrhea. To date in the U.S., this possible resistance has only been observed on samples analyzed in laboratory studies, but a few cases of resistance in men and women have been reported in Norway and Japan.

A report published recently in the United States shows clear signs of a potential resistance in the bacterium that causes gonorrhea. To date in the U.S., this possible resistance has only been observed on samples analyzed in laboratory studies, but a few cases of resistance in men and women have been reported in Norway and Japan.

The report analyzed laboratory results over a period of ten years in 30 American cities. It reveals a clear increase in signs of resistance in the bacterium that causes gonorrhea, namely as seen in the higher antibiotic dose required to kill it.

The gonorrhea bacterium is particularly complex and, over the decades, has shown an amazing ability to develop a resistance to the different classes of antibiotics used to treat it: penicillins, tetracyclines, and most recently fluoroquinolones, have all had to be abandoned. Currently, the only antibiotics that can still eradicate gonorrhea are those in the cephalosporin class.

In Quebec, the reported number of cases of this sexually transmitted infection (STI) has grown by an astounding 100 percent between 2005 and 2009. For now, no resistant case has been identified in affected individuals.

Why should we report on this resistance if, so far, it is only “possible”? Because resistance can develop relatively quickly, and if it does, there is no other class of antibiotics that we can use. By sounding the alarm early, the hope is that pharmaceutical companies that are working on developing new antibiotics will double their efforts to market a product effective against this (and probably many other) bacteria. Let’s not forget that developing a drug can take 15 to 20 years.

There is really only one way to protect yourself against gonorrhea and other STIs, and that is to systematically practice safe sex, most importantly by using a condom for all sexual relations until both partners are absolutely sure that they are not carriers of a virus or bacterium.

Many STIs produce few or no symptoms, so don’t fool yourself into thinking that “you’d know it if something was wrong” when considering a sexual relationship with a new partner. A screening test is the best way to know where you stand.

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