5 April 2010

Gonorrhea set to attain superbug status

by Kate Melville

Sexual health experts say the increase of multidrug resistance in gonorrhea raises the very real possibility that strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae resistant to all current treatment options could emerge in the near future.

Professor Catherine Ison told attendees at a Society for General Microbiology conference that some strains of the gonococcal bacteria that cause the disease are now showing decreased sensitivity to the current antibiotics used to treat them - ceftriaxone and cefixime.

Ison, from the Health Protection Agency in London, explained that choosing an effective antibiotic is challenging because the organism that causes gonorrhea is extremely versatile and develops resistance to antibiotics very quickly. "Penicillin was used for many years until it was no longer effective and a number of other agents have been used since. The current drugs of choice, ceftriaxone and cefixime, are still very effective but there are signs that resistance particularly to cefixime is emerging and soon these drugs may not be a good choice," she said.

According to Ison, ongoing monitoring of antimicrobial resistance is critical to ensure that first-line treatments for gonorrhea remain effective. "There are few new drugs available and so it is probable that the current use of a single dose may soon need to be revised and treatment over several days or with more than one antibiotic will need to be considered," she warned. "If this problem isn't addressed then there is a real possibility that gonorrhea will become a very difficult infection to treat."

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Source: Society for General Microbiology