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Beware! New Strain of Super Gonorrhea on the Rise

Can the world handle another global public health threat? It's a question on the mind of many since scientists in Japan have discovered a new strain of the bacteria that causes gonorrhea. The worst part is that it is resistant to traditional antibiotic treatments.

Gonorrhea is caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae and is usually easily treated with antibiotics. However this new strain is a genetic mutant and is unresponsive to cephalosporins–the only antibiotics that remain an effective combatant against the potentially deadly disease.

Lead researcher Magnus Unemo, professor at the Swedish Reference Laboratory for Pathogenic Neisseria in Orebro, Sweden, said, “This is both an alarming and a predictable discovery. Since antibiotics became the standard treatment for gonorrhea in the 1940s, this bacterium has shown a remarkable capacity to develop resistance mechanisms to all drugs introduced to control it.”

The invasion of the super clap.

Often referred to as “the clap,” what was once a treatable STD could very well become a global public health threat. Unemo voices his concerns when he says, “While it's too early to assess if this new strain has become widespread, the history of newly emergent resistance in the bacterium suggests that it may spread rapidly unless new drugs and effective treatment programs are developed.”

It looks like Neisseria gonorrhoeae will join the class of bacteria known as “superbugs.” Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant enterococci are already long standing members of the group. But while the diseases caused by these superbugs are often confined to hospitals, super gonorrhea isn’t contained by such boundaries. It could spread virtually anywhere.

This new resistance isn’t a first. Neisseria gonorrhoeae has a history of developing antibiotic resistance. Twenty years ago, before cephalosporins were used as an effective treatment, the bacteria became untouchable by other antibiotics. But once you get a strain that is completely resistant to any antibiotic at all, then alternative treatment regimens have to be quickly developed.

A common, but dangerous, STD.

Gonorrhea is one of the most common STDs with approximately 700,000 new cases reported each year in the U.S. alone. The disease spreads through direct contact with the penis, mouth, anus, or vagina and can also be transmitted at birth. The troubling fact is only 50% of infected women and less than 5% of infected men ever develop symptoms. If the infection isn't treated, the disease can spread to the skin and enter the bloodstream and other organs, which can lead to infertility and even death. To make matters even worse, pharmaceutical companies aren't actively looking for new antibiotics because of financial cutbacks.

Recently the CDC prompted physicians to report any cases of gonorrhea proven to be resistant to cephalosporins. This new antibiotic-resistant superbug should remind us all that antibiotic resistance is a real problem - one that contributes to health problems around the world.

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