Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spoke with NewsOne about the early warning signs around the globe that gonorrhea is increasingly becoming resistant to drugs and may soon become immune to medical treatment in the United States.
The Associated Press reported this week that the World Health Organization released a global action plan to tackle a form of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, which is emerging around the globe — first in Japan then more recently to Britain, Australia, France, Sweden, and Norway.
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In response to questions, U.S. health officials told NewsOne that doctors here should increase studies of the bacterial infection that can cause inflammation, complicate pregnancies, cause infertility, and facilitate HIV infection.
“We can say that we are seeing early warning signs abroad that the disease is becoming resistant to treatment,” says Dr. Robert Kirkcaldy, a medical epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, “which is why we should take action now.”
According to Kirkcaldy, there is the very real prospect of untreatable gonorrhea emerging in the United States, especially in communities of color.
If so, this spells bad news for African Americans. Dr. Kirkcaldy says it’s difficult to predict how long it could take untreatable gonorrhea to emerge in the United States. Medical experts speculate, though, that it could be in about a decade.
Overall, African Americans remain disproportionately affected by gonorrhea, accounting for the majority of infections (69 percent or 167,655 cases) in 2010, says Dr. Kirkcaldy, who cites the latest available statistics. The infection rate among Blacks is 20 times as high as Whites (512.2 vs. 26.0 per 100,000 people) and 8 times as high among Hispanics, he adds. While reported gonorrhea rates have hit historically low levels in recent years, the number of cases still remain unacceptably high in the United States.
The Associated Press reports:
Babies born to mothers with gonorrhea have a 50 percent chance of developing eye infections that can result in blindness.
This organism has basically been developing resistance against every medication we’ve thrown at it, said Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, a scientist in the agency’s department of sexually transmitted diseases. This includes a group of antibiotics called “cephalosporins” currently considered the last line of treatment.
In a couple of years, it will have become resistant to every treatment option we have available now, she told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of WHO’s public announcement on its `global action plan’ to combat the disease.
Lusti-Narasimhan said the new guidance is aimed at ending complacency about gonorrhea and encouraging researchers to speed up their hunt for a new cure.
Once considered a scourge of sailors and soldiers, gonorrhea – known colloquially as the clap – became easily treatable with the discovery of penicillin. Now, it is the second most common sexually transmitted infection after chlamydia. The global health body estimates that gonorrhea is responsible for some 106 million infections annually. It also increases the chances of infection with other diseases, such as HIV.
It’s not a European problem or an African problem, it’s really a worldwide problem, said Lusti-Narasimhan.
Scientists believe overuse or incorrect use of antibiotics, coupled with the gonorrhea bacteria’s astonishing ability to adapt, means the disease is now close to becoming a super bug.
“This is an emerging public health threat,” Kirkcaldy told NewsOne. “Now is the time to take action before we see widespread resistance. This is a critical part of public health, particularly in communities of color.”