"Gonorrhoea fast becoming 'untreatable', WHO experts warn," reports Sky News.
Analysis of data from 77 countries by the World Health Organization (WHO) found antibiotic resistance exists against almost all antibiotics currently used to treat the sexually transmitted infection (STI) gonorrhoea.
In the past, gonorrhoea infections were treated effectively with a one-off dose of antibiotics.
Nowadays, gonorrhoea needs to be treated with both an antibiotic injection and a dose of antibiotic tablets.
And increased resistance to antibiotics, coupled with a lack of new treatments in the pipeline, raises concerns that the infection could be untreatable in the future.
This is concerning, as untreated gonorrhoea in women can cause complications that can lead to infertility and miscarriage.
In this study, a WHO group outlined a new strategy to support the research and development of new treatments for gonorrhoea. Preventing the spread of the STI is also of paramount importance.
Gonorrhoea is the second most common STI in the UK.
It's caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and can be transmitted easily through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, infecting the genitals, back passage, and sometimes the eyes or throat.
Usual symptoms include an abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis, pain when passing urine, and bleeding in between periods in women.
Treatment involves an antibiotic injection and a single dose of antibiotic tablets.
But many people get no symptoms, so gonorrhoea can go unnoticed and untreated, which can lead to serious complications.
Around 10-20% of women can get pelvic inflammatory disease from gonorrhoea, which can then affect their fertility.
Gonorrhoea in pregnancy can also be transmitted to the infant, which can lead to newborn conjunctivitis and even threaten a baby's eyesight.
The study was produced by the WHO Global Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance Programme (WHO GASP), a group of researchers responsible for monitoring trends in drug-resistant gonorrhoea.
The group analysed data from 77 countries, and found there is increasing resistance to all the drugs currently used to treat gonorrhoea – to both the first-choice antibiotic, and to the second-choice antibiotic used when the first one fails.
Bacteria have the ability to respond and adapt to antibiotics, with the potential to become effectively immune to the antibiotic's effects.
Even more worryingly, they can develop resistance to many different antibiotics, which now seems to be the case for the bacteria that causes gonorrhoea.
There also aren't many drugs currently being developed for the treatment of gonorrhoea. This raises the concern that the spread of drug-resistant gonorrhoea could outpace the development of new drugs, and may even result in doctors not being able to treat the STI.
In order to address this, the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP) initiative was launched in 2016 by the World Health Organization and Drugs for Neglected Disease (DNDi).
GARDP is a not-for-profit research organisation that sets up programmes around the world that aim to develop short- and long-term treatments for STIs, among other things.
As part of their initiative to improve research and development for new treatments for gonorrhoea, GARDP convened a panel of international experts from various institutions in different regions, including India, South Africa and China.
Together, they have outlined a research and development strategy that could help target the development of new treatments for gonorrhoea.
GARDP seeks to work with various experts to bring one new treatment for gonorrhoea to the market by 2023.
This is discussed in the research and development strategy, which outlines four components.
Explained simply, this means that GARDP hopes to:
The increase in antimicrobial resistance towards drugs used to treat gonorrhoea is reaching a critical stage, especially given how common the infection is worldwide, with an estimated 78 million new cases in 2012.
This study raises concerns around an important topic while also proposing strategies to help address the slow pace of research and development of new drugs.
The prevention of gonorrhoea is equally, if not more, important. The most effective way to prevent gonorrhoea is to always use a condom during sex, including anal and oral sex.
Read more advice about sexually transmitted infections and how to prevent them.