Gonorrhea is a sexually-transmitted disease which causes inflammatory discharge from the genitalia. Super-gonorrhea is a variant of the disease which is highly difficult to treat because it is resistant to the antibiotics that are commonly used to treat the infection.
Recently, the first case of super-gonorrhea has been reported in the UK. The case has now been treated, however it does highlight a worrying global increase in antibiotic-resistant STIs.
Antibiotic-resistance occurs when the bacteria adapts and develops a slightly different strain that cannot be destroyed by the usual antibiotics. All the bacteria will die except the new strain, leaving more nutrients and room for this strain meaning it will flourish and the disease will persist.
A cause of the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is due to people using antibiotics ineffectively: not seeing the whole prescription through or not taking the medications at the prescribed times.
The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is also attributed to the increasing global use of antibiotics in farming and medicine. Surveys suggest that around four in ten people expect to be prescribed antibiotics when they visit their GP for illnesses such as coughs and colds; these are both most commonly caused by viruses, and therefore cannot be aided by this drug treatment.
It is estimated that around 700,000 people die of drug-resistant infections every year. In the UK, it is estimated that more than 2,000 deaths a year in the UK are caused by antibiotic-resistant infections.
A possible solution to this is to cut reliance on antibiotics. The Chief Medical Officer warns that without this Britain could end up in ‘the dark ages’ where common operations become too dangerous to perform: operations like a hip-replacement and caesareans could become life-threatening.
The risk of super-gonorrhea transmission is significantly reduced by the consistent and correct use of condoms. Anyone who thinks they are potentially at risk of getting an STI should immediately seek help by going to an STI screening at a sexual health clinic. If left untreated the infection can lead to infertility.
Taking the initiative to go to the doctors is essential as one in ten men and three in four women show no recognisable symptoms even when they have the infection. There has been a 22 percent increase in reported cases of gonorrhea within the last year (with almost 45,000 diagnoses in 2017, England). This trend has been observed with other STIs including syphilis, which is perhaps more worrying considering the fact that the levels of syphilis have been not been higher in the past 70 years (last year there were 7,137 reported cases).
These issues have caused scientists and doctors to have to rethink their approach to drug prescription in the hope to prevent the rise of these super-bugs.