After compiling data from over 75 countries, World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that the growing resistance to antibiotics is making gonorrhea “much harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat.”

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can affect the genitals, rectum, and throat. Complications include pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, infertility, and an increased risk of HIV.

Dr. Teodora Wi, Medical Officer, Human Reproduction, at WHO, added, “Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them.” While some countries are reporting a rise in resistance to older and cheaper antibiotics, other countries are discovering cases of gonorrhea that are not treatable by any antibiotic. 

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Data from the WHO Global Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance Programme (WHO GASP) from 2009–2014 showed that 97% of countries with reported data found drug-resistant strains to ciprofloxacin. 

There was also a growing trend of resistance azithromycin reported by 81% of countries, and the start of resistance to the “last-resort” extended-spectrum cephalosporins (eg, oral cefixime, ceftriaxone injection) by 66% of countries.

Resistance to extended-spectrum cephalosporins has been reported in over 50 countries, which prompted WHO to issue an updated treatment recommendation in 2016 advising clinicians to prescribe both ceftriaxone and azithromycin. 

Currently, three drug candidates are in clinical development for gonorrhea: solithromycin (Phase 3), zoliflodacin (Phase 2), and gepotidacin (Phase 2). In order to encourage the development of new antibiotics, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) and WHO have launched the non-profit organization, Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP). 

Dr. Marc Sprenger, Director of Antimicrobial Resistance at WHO, pointed out that new tests for earlier diagnosis and more effective prevention are needed. “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.”

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Scientists warn that antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is on the rise- new drugs and better preventative methods urgently needed [press release]. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. Published July 7, 2017. Accessed July 12, 2017. 

This article originally appeared on MPR