I’ve focused much attention this year on the rise of drug-resistant strains of diseases. There’s been a lot of panic in the U.S., for example, around MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and new discussions about how to combat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. As I’ve written before, I believe drug resistance is going to be one of our greatest global health challenges in the near future–one that will require the development of new drugs and coordinated, intensive efforts for prevention and control. Now there’s another to add to the list: drug-resistant gonorrhea.
Gonorrhea (Neisseria gonorrhoeae) is a common bacterial sexually-transmitted infection (STI) that affects both men and women. According to the WHO, there are more than 100 million cases of gonorrhea a year. In some cases, people may not experience any symptoms, and without treatment, gonorrhea can lead to serious health issues, including reproductive problems, infertility, and miscarriage. It can be passed from mother-to-child, causing blindness. Although gonorrhea has been regarded in recent years as a lower-concern STI, since it is easily treatable and curable (as opposed to HIV or herpes, for example), that’s changing.
So far, most of the drug-resistant cases have been in Europe. The Chicago Tribune reports that one in 10 cases of gonorrhea in Europe is now drug-resistant and has been found in at least 17 countries. The WHO released an action plan this week to combat drug-resistant gonorrhea, which, as Forbes explains, calls for new drugs, better monitoring and prevention, and stopping the misuse of antibiotics. Wired gives a bit more background to the issue, writing that researchers have been raising concerns about drug-resistant gonorrhea since the late 1990s.
Although we must continue and greatly expand efforts to track, prevent, and control the spread of drug-resistant diseases, it might be time for us to focus on new treatment options and drugs–ones that are easy to take, have short-term courses, and aren’t expensive (which is asking for a lot, especially from Big Pharma). People must also take some personal responsibility as well: finish all of your prescribed meds, don’t turn to antibiotics for every little thing, and practice safe sex, for starters. The rise of superbugs does not have to be an inevitability, but without robust health systems everywhere in the world and dedicated efforts from the health community as well as patients (or potential patients), it’s going to be hard to turn back the tide.
Header photo via Flickr, by puuikibeach, CC BY 2.0.