A new strain of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea is likely to transform a common and once easily treatable infection into a global threat to public health, according to an international research team that has uncovered a variant that is resistant to all currently available antibiotics.
Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world. In the U.S. alone, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of cases is estimated at 700,000 annually.
Dr. Magnus Unemo of the Swedish Reference Laboratory for Pathogenic Neisseria states:
"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. While it is still 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."
Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes the ailment has developed the new H041 strain and new, genetic mutations responsible for the bacterium's extreme resistance to all cephalosporin-class antibiotics, the last remaining drugs still effective in treating gonorrhea, have been clearly identified.
Gonorrhea is asymptomatic in about 50% of infected women and approximately 2-5% of men. When symptomatic, it is characterized by a burning sensation when urinating and pus discharge from the genitals. If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to serious and irreversible health complications in both women and men.
In women, the infection can cause chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy. It can lead to infertility, mostly in women but also in men, and it increases the risk of HIV transmission. In 3-4% of cases, untreated infections spread to the skin, blood, joints, or even the heart and can cause potentially mortal lesions.
Babies born of infected mothers are at high risk of developing serious blood and joint infections, and passage through the birth canal of an infected mother can cause blindness in the infant.
So what can you look out for? Some men with gonorrhea may have no symptoms at all. However, some men have signs or symptoms that appear one to fourteen days after infection. Symptoms and signs include a burning sensation when urinating, or a white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis. Sometimes men with gonorrhea get painful or swollen testicles.
In women, the symptoms of gonorrhea are often mild, but most women who are infected have no symptoms. Even when a woman has symptoms, they can be so non-specific as to be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. The initial symptoms and signs in women include a painful or burning sensation when urinating, increased vaginal discharge, or vaginal bleeding between periods. Women with gonorrhea are at risk of developing serious complications from the infection, regardless of the presence or severity of symptoms.
Symptoms of rectal infection in both men and women may include discharge, anal itching, soreness, bleeding, or painful bowel movements. Rectal infection also may cause no symptoms. Infections in the throat may cause a sore throat, but usually causes no symptoms.
Any genital symptoms such as discharge or burning during urination or unusual sore or rash should be a signal to stop having sex and to see a doctor immediately. If a person has been diagnosed and treated for gonorrhea, he or she should notify all recent sex partners so they can see a health care provider and be treated.
Sources: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The International Society for STD Research
Written by Sy Kraft