U.S. health officials are warning a widespread drug used to treat gonorrhea has been rendered ineffective, leaving only one drug option to defend against one of the most rampant sexually transmitted diseases in America.
The bacteria that causes gonorrhea has become resistant to antibiotics used to treat the condition, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC’s announcement echos concerns raised by the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this summer, that sounded the alarm that a widespread treatment for the disease was not longer viable.
Dwindling treatment options: Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, has become resistant to antibiotics used to treat the condition, according to a new report from the CDC
Roughly 700,000 cases of gonorrhea occur in the U.S. annually, of the estimated 106 million people each year who are infected worldwide.
In the U.S., it is most prevalent among African Americans and sexually active teenagers and young adults.
Since 2007, the Atlanta-based agency has recommended cefixime, an oral medication under the brand name Suprax, as the first line of defense to combat the spread of the infection.
But now the CDC believes cefixime is not adequately treating the condition and patients can no longer rely on it as a viable option.
With cefixime no longer being recommended, only one treatment is left available to those suffering from the disease, commonly referred to as ‘The Clap.’
Instead, patients with the condition are advised to receive an antibiotic delivered by injection, known as ceftriaxone.
What is gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhea and spreads through sexual activity, but has been known at times to spread from an untreated mother to her baby during childbirth.
The sexually transmitted disease (STD) can grow easily in the warm, moist areas of the reproductive tract, including the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes in women, and in the urethra in both women and men.
Those infected, particularly women, can show no symptoms. Symptoms for men include a burning sensation when urinating, or colored discharge.
Complications from the disease can include infertility and chronic pelvic pain in women and in men.
In most patients, a urine test can be used to test for gonorrhea.
This change could become problematic because the shot is not typically stocked in a doctor’s office and usually only found in STD clinics.
Patients also tend to prefer pills to injections and might be less likely to seek the injectable option.
With only one treatment deemed effective, health officials also fear the infection will eventually develop a resistance against ceftriaxone.
‘Gonorrhea is becoming a major public health challenge, due to the high incidence of infections accompanied by dwindling treatment options,’ Dr Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, from the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at WHO, said in a statement in June.
‘The available data only shows the tip of the iceberg. Without adequate surveillance we won’t know the extent of resistance to gonorrhea and without research into new antimicrobial agents, there could soon be no effective treatment for patients.’
The CDC and National Institutes of Health will review potential treatment alternatives but fear research and development for gonorrhea drugs will be a tough sell to pharmaceutical companies.