June 7, 2012 — The World Health Organization on Wednesday cautioned that treatment options for some strains of gonorrhea could soon be exhausted unless new drugs are developed and treatment patterns change, Reuters reports.
Last year, scientists warned that antibiotic-resistant strains that emerged in Japan in 2008 could spread and become a global health threat. Cases have since appeared in many other countries, including Australia, Britain, France, Norway and Sweden, WHO said (Kelland, Reuters, 6/6). It is likely that the strains also have spread undetected to countries with less-developed health systems (Jordans, AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/6).
Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections worldwide and was once considered easily treatable. However, overuse and unregulated access to antibiotics has hastened natural genetic mutations in strains of the bacteria (Reuters, 6/6). For instance, in some Asian countries, low-potency antibiotics are available over-the-counter (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/6).
The issue is compounded by gonorrhea's ability to retain antibiotic-resistant characteristics even after particular drugs are discontinued, according to experts. Moreover, "the organism has readjusted itself to provide fewer symptoms so that it can survive longer," Francis Ndowa, former lead specialist for STIs at WHO, said (Reuters, 6/6).
WHO called for governments to more strictly control antibiotic use and improve surveillance systems to better determine the scope of the drug-resistant cases. Better sex education to encourage condom use also is needed, Manjula Lusti-Narasimham, a scientist at WHO's department of sexually transmitted diseases, said (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/6).
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