Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that has become nearly impossible to treat, due to antibiotic resistance. The disease can be passed on through unprotected anal, oral, or vaginal sex. The problem is that the disease has developed resistance to antibiotics and, in some cases, has become untreatable.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 78 million people a year are affected by this disease. Decreasing condom use, increased urbanization and travel, poor infection detection rates, and inadequate or failed treatment all contribute to this increase.

“The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them,” stated Dr. Teodora Wi, Medical Officer, Human Reproduction at WHO.

In most countries, extended-spectrum cephalosporins (ESCs) are the only antibiotic that is still able to treat gonorrhea, according to WHO. They even updated their treatment recommendations in 2016. They now advise doctors to prescribe two antibiotics for this disease. These antibiotics are ceftriaxone and azithromycin. However, new antibiotics are still needed to cure this infection and a longer-term vaccine is necessary to prevent it, as WHO says.

Some symptoms of gonorrhea are a greater frequency and urge to urinate, pain while urinating, and discharge. However, many people have no symptoms, says WHO. These can also be symptoms of other types of infection and doctors sometimes overprescribe antibiotics, which can make the problem worse, according to WHO.

Dr. Marc Sprenger, director of Antimicrobial Resistance at WHO, has stated, “To control gonorrhea, we need new tools and systems for better prevention, treatment, earlier diagnosis, and more complete tracking and reporting of new infections, antibiotic use, resistance and treatment failures.”

Fortunately, this disease is preventable through safer sexual behavior, mainly through correct condom use. Providing education, awareness, and Information can also promote safer sex practices, as well as help individuals recognize the symptoms of gonorrhea and other STDs, and ultimately increase the chances that they will seek care.

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