A new strain of untreatable gonorrhea could cause a worldwide pandemic, World Health Organization (WHO) officials warned.
“This organism has basically been developing resistance against every medication we’ve thrown at it,” Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, a WHO scientist said in The Week.
Europe, in particular, has been hard-hit by the new wave of infections. Since 2010, the disease has spread across 17 countries.
Health officials say the emergence of this new drug-resistant strain, which was found in Japan in 2008, is due to unregulated access to and overuse of antibiotics, which help fuel genetic mutations within the bacteria.
The world’s second-most common sexually transmitted disease after chlamydia, gonorrhea has infected more than 106 million people since its discovery, but an estimated half of the cases are never reported, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While gonorrhea is easily treated with penicillin and other antibiotics, if left untreated, it can cause a range of reactions from painful urination to spontaneous abortion. It also increases the risk of contracting HIV, and infected women can pass it to their babies.
“To keep the new strain from galloping across the globe, doctors will have to step up efforts to spot gonorrhea,” Dr. Lusti-Narasimhan stated in The Week. “That, along with better sex education and a renewed push to find alternative treatments will be needed to avert a truly dangerous crisis.”
“We’re not going to be able to get rid of it completely,” she said. “But we can limit the spread.”