Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea on the Rise

Gonorrhea has been an unwanted actor in our reproductive history far longer than most other diseases. The term gonorrhea was coined close to 2000 years ago by the great physician Galen to describe a “flow of seed” that affected his patients. Around the same time, Chinese medicine books delved into its causes and treatment. The Old Testament also has a passage that scholars believe refers to the disease. In recent years, case reports of untreatable gonorrhea spreading globally have brought this old scourge back under the spotlight.

In the past decade, a considerable number of cases have failed to yield to the few treatment options still effective against Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the microorganism responsible for this disease. This was only a matter of time: gonorrhea has previously developed resistance to dozens of other drugs, from penicillin to the latest antibiotics. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported earlier this year that strains resistant to the “current last-resort treatment” using ceftriaxone are present in 66% of countries under surveillance. Other once-effective drugs, such as azithromycin and ciprofloxacin, now have antibiotic-resistant counterparts in 81% and 97% of countries respectively. Completely untreatable gonorrhea cases, resistant to all known antibiotics, have popped up in Japan, Spain, France and the UK—all countries with outstanding healthcare systems.

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