UN health officials warn of gonorrhea becoming untreatable

Medical professionals are running out of ways to treat gonorrhea, the World Health Organization announced yesterday.

The UN health agency released new guidelines warning doctors that an entire class of antibiotics, quinolones, was no longer recommended because quinolone-resistant strains of the disease had emerged all over the world.

The health agency recommended the use of cephalosporins, instead, another class of antibiotic. The new protocol replaced guidelines that had had been followed since 2003.

The WHO said 78 million people suffered gonorrhea infection every year.

Worldwide, health officials were concerned that overuse of antibiotics for other infections, such as urinary tract infections, would lead to widespread, untreatable strains of gonorrhea. In 2011, a super-resistant strain hit Japan.

Meanwhile, WHO said in a news release, "New guidelines for the treatment of three common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been issued by WHO in response to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.

Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis are all caused by bacteria and are generally curable with antibiotics. However, these STIs often go undiagnosed and are becoming more difficult to treat, with some antibiotics now failing as a result of misuse and overuse. It is estimated that, each year, 131 million people are infected with chlamydia, 78 million with gonorrhoea, and 5.6 million with syphilis.

Resistance of these STIs to the effect of antibiotics has increased rapidly in recent years and has reduced treatment options.

Of the three STIs, gonorrhoea has developed the strongest resistance to antibiotics. Strains of multidrug-resistant gonorrhoea that do not respond to any available antibiotics have already been detected. Antibiotic resistance in chlamydia and syphilis, though less common, also exists, making prevention and prompt treatment critical.

When left undiagnosed and untreated, these STIs can result in serious complications and long-term health problems for women, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and miscarriage, and untreated gonorrhoea and chlamydia can cause infertility in both men and women.

Infection with chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis can also increase a person's risk of being infected with HIV two- to three-fold. An untreated STI in a pregnant woman increases the chances of stillbirth and newborn death.