Gonorrhea Evades Antibiotics, Leaving Only One Drug To Treat Disease
by Rob Stein
There’s some disturbing news out today about a disease we don’t hear about much these days: gonorrhea. Federal health officials announced that the sexually transmitted infection is getting dangerously close to being untreatable. As a result, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines for how doctors should treat gonorrhea. The guidelines are designed to keep one of the remaining effective antibiotics useful for as long as possible by restricting the use of the other drug that works against the disease.
“We are sounding the alarm,” said Gail Bolan, who heads the CDC’s division of STD prevention.
Gonorrhea has been plaguing humanity for centuries. But ever since penicillin came along a dose of antibiotics would usually take care of the disease. “Gonorrhea used to be susceptible to penicillin, ampicillin, tetracycline and doxycycline — very commonly used drugs,” said Jonathan Zenilman, who studies infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins. But one by one, each of those antibiotics — and almost every new one that has come along since — eventually stopped working. One reason is that the bacterium that causes gonorrhea can mutate quickly to defend itself, Zenilman said. “If this was a person, this person would be incredibly creative,” he said. “The bug has an incredible ability to adapt and just develop new mechanisms of resisting the impact of these drugs.” Another reason is that antibiotics are used way too frequently, giving gonorrhea and many other nasty germs too many chances to learn how to survive. ”
A lot of this is occurring not because of treatment for gonorrhea but overuse for other infections, such as urinary tract infections, upper respiratory tract infections and so forth,” Zenilman said. It got to the point recently where doctors had only two antibiotics left that still worked well against gonorrhea — cefixime and ceftriaxone.