The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are getting smarter, and in a state where the sexually transmitted disease is so prevalent, South Carolina residents are being urged to take notice.
The World Health Organization said last week that at least three people have been infected with untreatable strains of gonorrhoea, which they are likely to be spreading to others through sex, according to Reuters.
Earlier this month, a group of experts published an article in the scientific journal PLOS Medicine explaining the challenges posed by drug-resistant gonorrhoea.
After surveying 77 countries, more than 90 percent reported some kind of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea, according to the WHO.
“The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them,” Teodora Wi, medical officer at WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said in a news release.
WHO estimates that more than 78 million people a year are infected with gonorrhoea, a sexually-transmitted disease that can infect the genitals, rectum and throat.
In South Carolina, the state with the fourth highest rate of gonorrhoea cases in 2015, the number of patients treated for the disease has consistently remained high the last five years.
In 2015, the last year in which data is available, 8,206 cases of the infection were reported in the state, according to the Center for Disease Control.
The new study demonstrates that antibiotic resistance is making gonorrhoea significantly harder — and sometimes impossible — to treat.
“These cases may just be the tip of the iceberg since systems to diagnose and report untreatable infections are lacking in lower-income countries where gonorrhoea is actually more common,” Wi said in the news release.
If left untreated, gonorrhoea will disproportionally affect women, potentially causing infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy —where a pregnancy progresses outside the uterus, as well as an increased risk of HIV.
In 2015, total combined cases of chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis reached the highest number in history for any one year.
But in recent years more than half of state and local sexually transmitted disease programs have experienced budget cuts, according to the CDC.
“We have reached a decisive moment for the nation,” Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a news release last year. “STD rates are rising, and many of the country’s systems for preventing STDs have eroded. We must mobilize, rebuild and expand services – or the human and economic burden will continue to grow.”
In a 2016 study, CDC reported, “treatment has been compromised by the absence of routine antimicrobial susceptibility testing in clinical care and evolution of antimicrobial resistance to the antibiotics used to treat gonorrhoea.”
As resistance to the antibiotics continues to increase, new tools and systems for better prevention as well as vaccines, earlier diagnosis and better tracking and reporting of new infections, antibiotic use, resistance and treatment failures, are needed, the WHO report stated.
“Specifically, we need new antibiotics, as well as rapid, accurate, point-of-care diagnostic tests—ideally, ones that can predict which antibiotics will work on that particular infection—and longer term, a vaccine to prevent gonorrhoea,” Marc Sprenger, director of antimicrobial resistance at WHO, said in a news release.