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New Gonorrhea Strain Resistant To Antibiotics

July 11, 2011

Scientists have found a new strain of gonorrhea in Japan that is resistant to all recommended antibiotics and could transform into a global public health threat.

The new strain, or H041, cannot be killed by any currently recommended treatments for gonorrhea, which has left doctors with no other option than to try medicines so far untested against the disease.

Magnus Unemo of the Swedish Reference Laboratory for Pathogenic Neisseria described the strain as both “alarming” and “predictable.”

“Since antibiotics became the standard treatment for gonorrhea in the 1940s, this bacterium has shown a remarkable capacity to develop resistance mechanisms to all drugs introduced to control it,” he told Reuters.

He said the fact that the strain had been found first in Japan also followed an alarming pattern.

“Japan has historically been the place for the first emergence and subsequent global spread of different types of resistance in gonorrhea,” he said.

The team’s analysis of the strain found it was resistant to all cephalosphorin-class antibiotics.

Gonorrhea is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection that can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility in women if left untreated.

The disease is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world and is most prevalent in south and southeast Asia and sub-saharan Africa.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of cases in the U.S. is about 700,000 a year.

British scientists said last year that there was a real risk of gonorrhea becoming a superbug.

Experts believe the best way to reduce the risk is to treat gonorrhea with combinations of two or more types of antibiotic at the same time.

This technique is used in the treatment of some other diseases like tuberculosis in an attempt to make it more difficult for the bacteria to learn how to conquer the drugs.

Rebecca Findlay, from the Family Planning Association, said it was a worrying sign.

“Prevention becomes more important because we know antibiotics won’t always work. Gonorrhoea can affect people of all ages and everyone should be now focusing on looking after their sexual health.”

Unemo said that experience from previous degrees of resistance acquired by gonorrhea suggested this new multi-drug resistant strain could spread around the world within decades.

“Based on the historical data … resistance has emerged and spread internationally within 10 to 20 years,” he told Reuters.

The World Health Organization says there are at least 340 million new cases of curable sexually transmuted infections every year among people aged 15 to 49.

About 50 percent of women infected with gonorrhea have no symptoms.

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