Tue | Oct 24, 2017

Gonorrhoea scare! - Drugs urgently needed to combat new untreatable STI superbug - WHO

Published:Saturday | July 8, 2017 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott

The World Health Organization (WHO) is expressing alarm over what it says is the increase in cases of a new strain of gonorrhoea that cannot be treated, driving concerns that last-resort drugs will soon be ineffective.

According to the WHO, data from 77 countries show that antibiotic resistance is making gonorrhoea much harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat.

Gonorrhoea spreads through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, as well as through the sharing of sex toys that have not been washed properly or covered with a new condom.

"The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolves to resist them," said Dr Teodora Wi, medical officer for human reproduction at the WHO.

Of concern is the fact that the vast majority of gonorrhoea infections are in poor countries such as Jamaica, where resistance is harder to detect.

"These cases may just be the tip of the iceberg," Wi added.

Dr Sandra Knight, a sexually transmitted infection and healthy lifestyle specialist in Jamaica, said she was extremely concerned about the new development, noting that it needs to be taken seriously.

"That is extremely alarming. The fact that it may be the case that we might be unable to treat some strains in a couple years is extremely concerning," Knight told The Gleaner yesterday.

Unaware of any cases of the superbug strain in Jamaica, she argued that because of inadequate testing, its actual presence was "somewhat difficult to detect".

... Engage in responsible oral sex - Knight

The sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhoea, can infect the genitals, rectum and throat, however, it is the latter that is most concerning to health experts, especially with reports of a new superbug strain in several countries.

Dr Teodora Wi, medical officer for human reproduction at the World Health Organization (WHO), said antibiotics could lead to bacteria in the back of the throat, thereby developing resistance.

"When you use antibiotics to treat infections like a normal sore throat, this mixes with the Neisseria species in your throat, and this results in resistance," she said.

Introducing the gonorrhoea bacteria into this environment through oral sex can lead to 'super-gonorrhoea', the WHO is arguing.

It is for that reason that Dr Sandra Knight is appealing to persons engaging in oral sex to do so responsibly.

"Let's have oral sex responsibly! People need to remember to wear their dental dams and protect themselves," urged the sexually transmitted infection and healthy lifestyle specialist, while admitting that she is an advocate for oral sex.

Knight warned that Jamaicans who travel frequently, especially those engaging in online dating and hook-ups from partners on dating sites, have to be extremely careful.

The WHO estimates that 78 million people worldwide contract the disease each year, with most cases affecting young men and women under the age of 25.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com