WHO Warns of Increasing Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea


Antibiotic resistance is making gonorrhea increasingly harder to treat, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in a recently published report.

Antibiotic resistance is making gonorrhea increasingly harder to treat, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in a recently published report. According to surveillance data, resistance to older and cheaper antibiotics is causing an increase in cases of the infection that are untreatable by all known antibiotics.

The bacteria, which can infect the genitals, rectum and throat, can cause a multitude of complications including infertility, an increased risk of HIV, and pelvic inflammatory disease. According to WHO, 78 million individuals are infected annually with gonorrhea due to decreasing condom use and poor detection rates or failed treatment.

Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is monitored by the WHO Global Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance Programme (WHO GASP). In countries that reported data to WHO GASP from 2009 to 2014, 97% identified widespread resistance to ciprofalxin, and 87% reported increasing resistance to azithromycin. The latest treatments, extended-spectrum cephalosporins (ESCs) oral cefixime and injectable ceftriaxone, have also come across resistant bacteria. Because of this, WHO has advised physicians to prescribe 2 antibiotics to infected patients.

WHO has launched the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP) with the help of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative to address issues such as this. Their goal is to develop new treatments for drug-resistant bacteria and promote appropriate antibiotic use.

“To address the pressing need for new treatments for gonorrhea, we urgently need to seize the opportunities we have with existing drugs and candidates in the pipeline,” Manica Balasegaram, MD, GARDP Director, said in a press release. “In the short term, we aim to accelerate the development and introduction of at least one of these pipeline drugs and will evaluate the possible development of combination treatments for public-health use.”

Gonorrhea can be prevented by practicing safer sexual behaviors. Physicians must also accurately diagnose patients with the correct sexually transmitted disease before prescribing antibiotics, as wrongful diagnosis can also contribute to drug resistance.

Marc Sprenger, MD, director of antimicrobial resistance at WHO, said, “Specifically, we need new antibiotics, as well as rapid, accurate, point-of-care diagnostic tests, ideally, ones that can predict which antibiotics will work on that particular infection, and longer term, a vaccine to prevent gonorrhea.”


Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea on the rise, new drugs needed [news release]. Geneva, Switzerland; World Health Organization’s website. July 7, 2017. who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/Antibiotic-resistant-gonorrhoea/en/. Accessed July 10, 2017.

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