Written by Staff Writer
Published in the February 2021 edition
Currently, most common strains of gonorrhea are cause concern for causing hemorrhagic fever infection, which can prove fatal. According to Public Health England, however, strains have also grown resistant to all available antibiotics, rendering them almost untreatable. As a result, the UK is currently experiencing an outbreak of CRE (carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae), a strain of gonorrhea that is reportedly “beefy red” and causes sores in the genitals, vulva and rectum.
Some 32 cases of the bacterial infection in the UK have been documented since this year, and infection rates in other parts of Europe have also been increasing, according to the World Health Organization. The agency’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently warned that gonorrhea is “out of control” in Europe.
Two methods of prevention are now available in the UK for gonorrhea, but the first is abstinence from sexual intercourse for one to two months. “If that doesn’t work, women can use a form of barrier contraception. If men use a condom, then all you have to worry about is a mild genital infection,” says Heather Jones, scientific adviser at Public Health England. The other method is antibiotic treatment, with antibiotics usually taken for seven days.
Infection rates in the UK with other commonly used antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, clarithromycin, and erythromycin have also been on the rise. Two reasons for this, the experts say, are better antibiotics that are more useful for antibiotics resistance and a growing global resistance to antibiotics in general.
The last five decades have seen this growing trend for gonorrhea. After the 1950s, when antibiotic resistance was first seen in humans, it took five decades to reach the levels we are seeing today. At the same time, the same antibiotics have been used in children for over 50 years, which has led to greater resistance over time.
Due to an increased rate of transmission, there has also been an increased rate of gonorrhea in men since the 1980s. Jones says that most of the cases in men seem to be caused by STDs that are not currently treatable by antibiotics.
Although antibiotic resistance is not seen as a risk for women in the UK, research by FHI 360, a human health consulting company, recently found that 85% of sexually active women in the UK reported that their sexual partners had tested positive for at least one of the top six gonorrhea subtypes.
For some women, Jones adds, gonorrhea is the only STD that can test positive for the top six subtypes. Gonorrhea has the worst rate of HIV transmission of any other STI, and infected women are more likely to become pregnant, causing their baby to have a higher than normal risk of dying.