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“We are starting to see resistance emerging to these drugs and even, as we say, superbug gonorrhea,” Dr. Manica Balasegaram, director of the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership, told reporters from Geneva.
Gonorrhea can infect the genitals, rectum and throat. Each year, it’s estimated 78 million people become infected. Most women with the infection have no symptoms and 40 per cent of men don’t either. Left untreated, men and women can become infertile and face an increased risk of HIV.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 395,000 cases were reported in 2015, a 13 per cent increase from the year before. There was a similar rise of 15 per cent reported in Canada.
Superbugs, or extensively resistant strains that could not be cured with the last line of defence, have been reported in France, Japan and Spain.
“After one of those cases, (the patient) just disappeared,” said Dr. Teodora Wi, a medical officer with WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research from Geneva. “They don’t come back for follow-up. You can infect others by having this untreatable infection. It can be transmitted.”
Wi is also concerned that the resistance data, which comes from high-income countries, just represents the tip of the iceberg of cases that go undocumented in low-income countries, such as most of Africa. She said simpler and better ways to diagnose resistance are needed.
The agency also called for:
Practising safe sex, using condoms and getting tested are ways that individuals can protect themselves, said Dr. Alanna Fitzgerald-Husek, a physician on the communicable diseases team at Public Health Ontario.
Fitzgerald-Husek said she’s worried about the about the growing rates of resistant gonorrhea and other infectious diseases.
“What we’re seeing now in Canada is that we’re coming to one of our last antibiotics that is effective,” Fitzgerald-Husek said.
The findings will be presented at the STI & HIV World Congress in Rio de Janeiro, which runs from July 9-12.