Scientists discover first gonorrhea strain resistant to all available antibiotics

July 11, 2011

An international research team has discovered a strain of gonorrhea resistant to all currently available antibiotics. This new strain is likely to transform a common and once easily treatable infection into a global threat to public health. The details of the discovery made by Dr. Magnus Unemo, Dr. Makoto Ohnishi, and colleagues will be presented at the 19th conference of the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Disease Research (ISSTDR) which runs July 10-13 in Quebec City, Canada.

The team of researchers successfully identified a heretofore unknown variant of the that causes gonorrhea, Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Analyzing this new strain, dubbed H041, allowed researchers to identify the responsible for the bacterium's extreme resistance to all cephalosporin-class —the last remaining drugs still effective in treating gonorrhea.

"This is both an alarming and a predictable discovery," noted Dr. Unemo of the Swedish Reference Laboratory for Pathogenic Neisseria. "Since antibiotics became the standard treatment for gonorrhea in the 1940s, this bacterium has shown a remarkable capacity to develop resistance mechanisms to all drugs introduced to control it."

"While it is still too early to assess if this new strain has become widespread, the history of newly emergent resistance in the bacterium suggests that it may spread rapidly unless new drugs and effective treatment programs are developed," Dr. Unemo continued.

Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world. In the U.S. alone, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of cases is estimated at 700,000 annually.

Gonorrhea is asymptomatic in about 50% of infected women and approximately 2-5% of men. When symptomatic, it is characterized by a burning sensation when urinating and pus discharge from the genitals. If left untreated, can lead to serious and irreversible health complications in both women and men.

In women, the infection can cause chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy. It can lead to infertility, mostly in women but also in men, and it increases the risk of HIV transmission. In 3-4% of cases, untreated infections spread to the skin, blood, joints, or even the heart and can cause potentially mortal lesions. Babies born of infected mothers are at high risk of developing serious blood and joint infections, and passage through the birth canal of an infected mother can cause blindness in the infant.

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not rated yet Jul 11, 2011
I have little knowledge of epidemiology, but if a new treatment were developed and used exclusively on patients all current forms of antibiotics do not help, could this strain be eliminated or is it just delaying it's inevitable rise to dominance?
not rated yet Jul 11, 2011
Great article- I feel the urge to clap.
not rated yet Jul 12, 2011

Published ahead of print on 16 May 2011.
The authors have paid a fee to allow immediate free access to this article.

not rated yet Jul 15, 2011
'Cipro' / ciprofloxacin works by binding up and removing iron from the invader in this case gonorrhea. When the body has too much iron the body cannot rid itself of the invader because the invader NEEDS iron to survive . THAT is why iron binding drugs are used.
"Ciprofloxacin: a novel therapeutic agent for iron overload?"
Iron has been shown to be bad for people who have to avoid iron like people taking antibiotics.
"Iron inhibits the absorption of antibiotics (when taken together). You should wait a few hours before or after taking an iron supplement"
Is the government causing rampant antibiotic resistant disease by adding iron to our foods?
"Availability of iron for bacterial multiplication plays a critical role in infection."
"For growth and proliferation, N. gonorrhoeae requires iron and must acquire this nutrient from within its host."

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