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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 21 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 12
CDC warns about antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea
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CDC warns about antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Officials at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are warning about a 'major public health challenge' - strains of gonorrhea bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat the disease.

This is a concern because gonorrhea is one of the most common STDs in the United States, with some 820,000 cases diagnosed every year. Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that used to be easily treatable with antibiotics, but CDC officials say the bacteria are 'remarkably adept' at adapting to common antibiotics.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, gonorrhea developed resistance to several common drugs that used to be able to treat it. This means that the rate of gonorrhea infections will increase, the CDC warned.

The CDC analysis revealed that gonorrhea cases rose in eight U.S. cities between 1991 and 2006. Researchers have concluded that if 10% of gonorrhea cases are resistant to the recommended treatment, there will be a 7% increase in overall gonorrhea infections.

The analysis focused on a strain of gonorrhea that no longer responds to ciprofloxacin, the primary antibiotic that the CDC used to recommend as a treatment.

Now, a cocktail of two antibiotics is the last effective treatment against gonorrhea, the CDC said. But there are already some signs that those last-resort antibiotics may not remain effective for long.

Last year, researchers in Canada found that nearly 7% of patients at a Toronto clinic were infected with a gonorrhea strain that did not respond to any medications at all. As the number of available treatments dwindles, that emerging resistance 'could have even more substantial health and economic consequences,' the CDC researchers said.

Untreated gonorrhea can cause severe and lasting health issues in both women and men. It puts women at risk for pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to ectopic pregnancies or infertility. In rare cases, it can also lead to infertility in men. Both genders would be at greater risk for contracting HIV if their gonorrhea goes untreated.

The National Coalition of STD Directors believes it could be a matter of two years or less before untreatable gonorrhea strains spread throughout the country.

The CDC said it is trying its best to stay ahead of the gonorrhea bacteria.

In 2007, the agency stopped recommending ciprofloxacin to treat gonorrhea, after more than 13% of patient samples displayed resistance to that drug.

Since then, the agency has updated its guidelines twice as gonorrhea has continued to evolve. Last summer, CDC officials partnered with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to try to develop two new treatments for the disease.

Gonorrhea is not the only disease where antibiotic treatments are losing their effectiveness. Global health officials are also concerned about emerging antibiotic resistance in potentially deadly diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and whooping cough.

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