An 'Untreatable' Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea Has Reemerged in England 

But this 'super-gonorrhea' isn't the first time the STI has defied modern medicine.  

by Sam Blum
NIAID/Flickr Creative Commons

The Chief Medical Officer of England has warned of an antibiotic resistant strain of gonorrhea that’s reemerging in the industrial city of Leeds. The familiar fears surrounding “untreatable super bugs” are beginning to posit some alarm throughout the country, and among anyone who might be planning to have sex in the 21st century.

In a letter published Monday, Dame Sally Davies warned England’s medical establishment of a potentially “untreatable” strain of the sexually transmitted infection, alleging that perpetual mistreatment of the disease might have contributed to its most recent mutation. Typically, a combination of two drugs — azithromycin and ceftriaxone — are used to treat gonorrhea, but as per reports from March, the use of only one drug has been a relatively common practice, especially with online pharmacies in England.

The newest gonorrhea scare isn’t the first to elicit shockwaves throughout the country, however: Leeds has grappled with outbreaks before, the most recent of which occurred earlier this year, while other cases of the superbug have cropped up internationally, with Australia, Japan, and Canada all reporting cases within the last three years.

Leeds lies north of Manchester, UK.

Davies’ letter states the obvious truth, that gonorrhea “has rapidly acquired resistance to new antibiotics, leaving few alternatives to the current recommendations,” noting that “it is therefore extremely important that suboptimal treatment does not occur.”

In other words: Come at the clap, you best not miss.

Echoing Davies’ sentiment is Peter Leone, an epidemiology professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Leone tells Inverse that the mutated strain of gonorrhea making its way through north England “typifies the dilemma we’re having with bacteria in general,” and should therefore feel more familiar than ruinous. The outbreak of a potentially untreatable version of the STI is symptomatic of a larger issue of microbial resistance, which affects large-scale industries throughout the world.

While Leon says that we may be “running out of antibiotics for some infections now,” reporting on the issue of super-gonorrhea has been somewhat sensationalized. In 2013, it was said that the fallout from a potential STI-related superbug would be “worse than AIDS,” which seems like a high bar to clear in any event.

Leon dismisses the more apocalyptic assessments, noting that Leeds and the rest of the UK aren’t really on the brink of catastrophe. “It’s not like when we say ‘superbug’ that we’re looking at something where people’s arms and legs are falling off,” he says.

There’s nothing particularly different about the enhanced version of gonorrhea in a clinical sense, Leon notes, although failure to effectively treat it via conventional means makes “facilitating the transmission of different diseases,” such as HIV, more possible.

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